The River Cinema and UND’s Student Involvement and Leadership Office have been working together for three years to try to keep students engaged in activities to improve retention rates by giving them free movie tickets.
“Research shows that students who are engaged in things stay in school,” said Sara Kaiser, coordinator of Student Organizations and Activities.
Before the free movie tickets, the university used to rent movies from a company called Swank Motion Pictures. With this program, movies would be set up in the lecture bowl or ballroom at the Memorial Union and students would watch the movie that was shown that night.
The problem with this program was that it cost around $1,000 and there wouldn’t be a large enough crowd to make the event worth the money.
After realizing this issue, Kaiser approached Penny Stai, the manager of The River Cinema, and asked if there were other options.
Together, Stai and UND came up with the free movie ticket program. The university buys discounted tickets from The River Cinema and then lets students pick them up for free with their student ID.
Kaiser said the Student Involvement and Leadership Office prints out 2,000 tickets and hands them to students who stop by the office. UND reimburses The River Cinema for tickets that are actually used.
While this is significantly more money than renting one movie and showing it in the lecture bowl, instead of 20 students showing up, this event will bring over 1,000 each time there’s a movie night.
The River Cinema is located on Demers Ave in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Nearly 2,000 students flock here on the select weekends when free movie tickets are offered.
The money for this event comes from UND student government. The office is allocated over $100,000 for events and activities like the free movie nights.
Maggie Powell, biology freshman, said she enjoys that she has something fun to go to with her friends.
“I’ve never gone by myself,” Powell said. “It’s always a social event.”
But students don’t have to go with anyone to make it a social event.
“The college experience is about making friends and meeting new people and these activities are an easy way for students to get to do that,” Kaiser said.
Besides promoting engagement and socializing, the university is also trying to promote healthy activities over drinking or partying.
“Before I came to UND, there was a big push to have evening events so students don’t go out and drink,” Kaiser said. “I don’t necessarily feel that way. I don’t think it’s an either-or proposition.”
While it isn’t stopping this type of behavior, it might still be helping.
“Lots of people go party on weekends, but when there’s free movies, that at least deters the problem,” Powell said.
The River Cinema’s Stai said she’s a big believer in this goal.
“We like to promote healthy activities,” Stai said. “We’re a family theater, so to have them come to a movie, talk about a movie and talk about coming again, I like that. I like that they want to talk about good things.”
With nearly 1,800 students going to the most recent free movie night, Kaiser said that the free tickets seem to be a success.
“We don’t want students to hear that you have to go to parties to have any fun,” Kaiser said.
Sarah Lowe, a student at Grand Canyon University, said she wishes that she had this type of opportunity at her school because she fully supports this program.
“It keeps them safe and from engaging in dangerous activities,” Lowe said.
While there isn’t any data proving that people are choosing the movies over partying, the success of the event in itself is an accomplishment. It started as an idea that they were going to try a couple times to see if it would work and now they’re handing out all of the 2,000 pre-printed tickets.
“It improves retention for our students, which is the ultimate goal. We want students to graduate,” Kaiser said. “I mean, they can’t do homework 24/7.”