Nearpeer is an app designed to engage college students with their peers so that they can build friendships and a support network since social media is not as effective or efficient. One of the problems that founder Manocha wanted to solve was “how do you build belonging and address loneliness for students new to that college?” Manocha believed the challenge of belonging and peer connection existed for both traditional and adult college students.
Traditional social media was getting less social. Just last week, the US Surgeon Dr. General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory about the risks of social media use for youth mental health. In early May, Dr. Murthy also warned of the epidemic of loneliness for all Americans.
It was Mr. Manocha’s belief that creating meaningful relationships would offset the epidemic of loneliness experienced by many new college students, improve their commitment to college, and foster greater inclusion.
Colleges adopting the use of the Nearpeer app and platform introduce their students to the app as soon as they are admitted or commit to enroll. For colleges focusing on enhancing enrollment, the Nearpeer app can increase the percentage of students enrolling and reduce summer melt by having them engage with their peers before they set foot on campus. This can also improve the overall student transition experience and help more students feel a part of their college community, including introverted students.
Nearpeer has a wide variety of clients, including public and private universities, as well as community colleges. One client, Cal State – Fresno, invites incoming students to sign up with Nearpeer via email and text anytime they onboard at the school. When students go through orientation, they are invited to create a profile on Nearpeer if they want to get to know their peers. Based on the profile that a student completes, the Nearpeer algorithms will show students the profiles of other students that they have the most in common with to make it more comfortable to connect and meet. By signing up for the app, students provide an implicit permission to connect which reduces perceived awkwardness or fear or rejection – something that is missing from traditional social media. Nearpeer has additional features to help transfer, commuter, international, online, and parent students.
The Nearpeer platform lets students choose from 2,000+ different interests, hobbies, life experiences, and affinities to build their profiles. The utilization of specific variables is customized to match the unique aspects of each college. Nearpeer utilizes a proprietary scoring algorithm that shows each student other students with similar likes. For students who are quieter or less confident about their college journey, Nearpeer helps them build one-to-one connections, which can feel more natural than engaging in large group chats. Among the variables frequently searched by students are life experiences, interests, hometown, and career aspirations.
Within the app is a tab called My Groups. Colleges can set up groups for student-to-student discussion, as well as for important student support topics. One student support example is a group for Financial Aid Questions. Admissions and student services staff who are assigned to Groups that they own (like Financial Aid Questions) can create profiles as well to make them seem more human to the students utilizing the app. Staff members log in and answer students’ questions in groups whenever they are notified. Students can also choose to be notified whenever there is a new post in their groups.
One of Nearpeer’s clients, Cal State Northridge (CSUN) conducted a randomized control trial (RCT) study across 12,000 incoming students in the Fall of 2022 to measure the impact of belonging for 6,000 students receiving access to Nearpeer (experimental group) versus 6,000 students who did not receive it (control group). Nearpeer was not mentioned during orientation to keep the experimental group and control group from finding out that there were differences in their status.
The findings from the study were remarkable. Students invited to use Nearpeer who signed up voluntarily logged in an average of 40 times in the first three months of use. Each user made 15 one-to-one connections with other new students. While only 1,560 of the 6,000 students included in the experimental group utilized the Nearpeer app (due to the structure of the study) the enrollment gains attributed to that group included overall enrollment improvement of +2.2%, +3.9% transfer student gains, +5.3% Black student gains, and +7.1% first-gen student gains. Extrapolated, the impact of Nearpeer to the incoming class is an increase of 240 more students with a tuition impact of nearly $4 million. Just imagine how much better the results would have been if all 6,000 students utilized the Nearpeer app.
The Nearpeer implementation also had a positive impact on CSUN’s existing peer mentor program, which had record demand the year Nearpeer was offered. Nearpeer also served a need unmet by peer mentoring. Approximately 50% of students who used Nearpeer previously declined the option for peer mentoring. For students who used both Nearpeer and peer mentoring, the impact was additive.
I found it interesting that the app was implemented at CSUN within two weeks of the contract being signed last May. For colleges that might be interested in impacting this Fall’s enrollments, now is not too late. There was also an improvement in student retention. For example, incoming Fall 2022 Black students offered Nearpeer had 12% higher retention as of the Spring 2023 term. More information can be found in Nearpeer’s new 2023 Enrollment Impact of Belonging Report (https://info.nearpeer.com/belonging-2023report).
I asked Dustin Manocha what the fees were for a typical Nearpeer implementation. He replied that their annual fees are based on the school’s student enrollment and the scope of the implementation and generally range between $10,000 and $80,000 per year. Without knowing what CSUN’s fees are, it doesn’t take an MBA to realize that increased enrollment of 240 students generating $4 million in tuition paid for the annual fees for many years in the future and with money for other expenses as well.
Mr. Manocha told me that he believes the success rates for enrollment are highest when the institution introduces the app to students at the point of admission. Reducing student melt and attrition improves the starting census with the added benefit that students have been engaging with the app for several months.
There are many companies grouped in the EdTech category, and their products are as varied as the number of students or institutions that they serve. Mr. Manocha’s Nearpeer is an example of a company with a specialized product designed to improve college student engagement and, because of improved engagement, increase the numbers of students enrolling at an institution as well as increase the student persistence rates. I like the fact that one of Nearpeer’s clients utilized a RCT study to determine the app’s effectiveness. I also like the effective design that allows for a quick installation and implementation of the product. The pricing of the app is a bargain if the average implementation is as successful as CSUN’s. The combination of all these factors leads me to believe that Nearpeer could have a bright future.
[Full Disclosure – I don’t have an investment in Nearpeer, nor is my blog post intended to solicit an investment for Mr. Manocha’s company.]