Jim Gregory of OnCampus Brands and Danny Armitage of University of North Texas presenting at the NACAS South Regional Conference in Charleston, South Carolina (April 2018)

Congrats to the class of 2018! Did you know retail dining has a direct impact on student retention and graduation rates? If you joined us for our ed session with Danny Armitage of University of North Texas at the NACAS South Regional Conference last month in Charleston, you’ll know that engaging students with retail dining has helped their university retention rate grow by 6%. UNT took a creative approach to exploring ways to engage commuter students in campus life to enhance retention by requiring all full-time undergraduates to purchase a dining/vending plan, which in turn increased their connectivity to campus. The plan required no additional financial burden on the resident student, and unused dining dollars were refunded to the students at the end of the semester. (It should be noted that only 1% of students received a full refund since 99% of all full-time undergraduate students dined on campus during the academic year.)

This Dining Dollars program generated a significantly higher financial return for UNT, creating a 200% dining sales increase, a 320% increase in vending sales, and a 200% increase in bookstore dining sales. The program also led to increased student satisfaction according to surveys, with 51% of commuter students ranking their overall experience with UNT’s dining services as excellent. Pre Dining Dollars, that percentage was only 32%. 

“Dining consistently scores highest for impact on engagement…”
With students interacting with each other via our dining programs every day, and often multiple times a day, dining operators have an opportunity to influence this captive audience in positive ways. Need to get an important message across to your students? Why not incorporate that messaging into your dining program? We should view every meal as not just a transaction, but an opportunity for interaction and engagement.

A study at Vanderbilt University on the “Influence of Student Affairs on First Year Students’ Intent to Re-enroll at the University of Memphis,” conducted by Ed.D candidates Karen Lewis and Denise Miller at the Peabody College also showed that increased student satisfaction through student affairs programs and services including on-campus dining (the #1 most utilized student affair service) led to increased segment revenues of up to 200 to 300%. On-campus dining was also found to be the second most influential student affairs program/service on the first-year students’ decision to re-enroll. 

Retail dining continues to offer unique opportunities to expand and enhance students’ on-campus experience. Decades of empirical research shows that learning is enhanced by social interaction (Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory and Natalia Maloshonok’s Student Engagement Theory come to mind), and if we maximize engagement through retail dining by offering the experiential retail that customers increasingly want and expect, higher retention rates and profits will follow. 

Interested in learning more? Don’t miss our expanded presentation, “Levering Up Campus Retail for Improved Student Engagement and Outcomes” at NACAS C3X in Orlando, FL on October 16!