Regardless of the unique motivating factors for participation among student cohorts, incentives can be a commonly shared motivator. These incentives can vary in terms of size and shape, but students generally respond positively to programming that has an incentive system in place. If you are able to use incentives, there are some things to remember.
Since IMAGE is implemented in a cohort-based setting, it makes sense to provide a cohort-based incentive. This can also increase participation within the group, if it is a requirement that a certain percentage of members be present in order to earn the incentive. Again, getting to know the cohort groups will allow for more effective brainstorming to determine the best incentive options for your campus. Student input is vital as well, because they tend to have a better understanding in what will spark interest among their peers.
The structure of the IMAGE program lends itself to a staggered incentive process. For instance, instead of earning one incentive at the end of the program, a cohort could earn a series of smaller incentives upon completion of each assessment point. For example, a group could earn the largest incentive upon completion of the session and post-test, a smaller incentive based upon completion of the 1-month follow-up, and a moderate incentive upon completion of the 6-month follow-up. This allows for reinforcement at each individual time point, which reduces attrition by allowing re-entry for groups that miss the 1-month window. Additionally, by weighting the incentives associated with time points according to their importance, you increase the likelihood of participation at those time points by the students.
It is important to note that incentives can come in many forms, and do not always require additional funding. Some faculty, for instance, are willing to offer extra credit for participation in programs. Many vendors in the community are willing to make donations to support student programming. Similarly, the campus community can be asked to share resources to increase participation.
It is also possible that incentives may not be able to be provided. In this case, institutions must work to build the relationships that are essential to implementation of IMAGE fully on their campuses. Nurturing relationships with departments who can support the IMAGE program (such as Orientation or First Year Experience) can replace the need for incentives. Incentives, in and of themselves, can be quite helpful, but remember that it is the relationship-building and the follow-up efforts of staff that will result in the strongest levels of participation among student groups.