Giving Compass' Take:

• More universities are using gamification tactics to entice college students to stay engaged, battle social isolation, and increase student retention. 

• How can education donors contribute to institutions with gamification programs? 

• Read about this edtech startup that is using gamification rewards to engage students. 

Beginning this past fall, California State University, Dominguez Hills students who engage in everyday college activities like joining a student group or checking into the mental health center have been able to cash in their experiences for tangible rewards.

The effort is part of the college's experimental Charge On campaign, which lets students earn prizes for learning about and taking advantage of campus resources. Students who read about health and stress-management tips, for instance, can receive a self-care kit filled with a coloring book, rainbow-colored stress balls and chamomile tea.

Researchers hope the project will encourage first-year retention by incentivizing students to learn about available resources and develop healthy habits that will make them more likely to stay in college. To do so, they're using gamification, or the use of game-like features such as point-scoring and leaderboards, to encourage student participation.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for gamification, meaning colleges' approach to the tool has been varied. Whether an institution awards prizes, lets students make their own avatars or launches a leaderboard to encourage competition depends on its own needs and tastes.

Small encouragements like this can add up for students. Social isolation can be a contributing factor to a student's decision to drop out of college, while a sense of community has been linked to their perceived academic success.

"New students and young people now, they've grown up playing games, they understand the language of games and they understand the language of the design that goes into games," he said. "There's not that learning curve that's maybe elsewhere, and it doesn't end up being a stopping point for a lot of students."

Read the full article about gamification by Natalie Schwartz at Education Dive