Colleges and universities should be texting students—but not everyone, not all the time, and not about everything that’s happening on campus.
Highly targeted messages, particularly those sent to incoming or prospective students, can reduce summer melt by providing timely reminders of financial aid filing dates and other important deadlines.
“Texting becomes most impactful when it contains key information, such as answers to specific, frequently asked questions students need to know right then, as opposed to broad-based messaging,” says Patricia Maben, a senior vice president at Noel Ruffalo Levitz, the higher ed consulting firm.
While some administrators may worry texts will encroach on personal space, the 2017 E-Expectations survey shows nearly two-thirds of students and their parents would find these messages helpful, says Maben. But less than half of high school seniors report having received any texts from a college.
In another recent Ruffalo Noel Levitz survey, financial aid officers said texts were the most effective method in their communications tool box; however, only 7 percent of these administrators reported sending texts.
A handful of platforms—from providers such as AdmitHub, Signal Vine and Mongoose—allow institutions to more easily craft messages, text students and track the results.
About 1 in 5 students accepted by colleges nationwide fail to show up for classes in the fall; for low-income students, that number is above 40 percent, says Kat Klima, who manages the Minnesota Office of Higher Education’s texting program.
A number of other state higher education offices now send text messages on behalf of colleges and universities to prevent melt—a practice known as “nudging.”
Klima’s agency has worked with Bemidji State and St. Cloud State universities to remind incoming students about financial aid applications and housing deadlines.
The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has joined the program this year and will, for the first time, research the effectiveness of text messages, Klima says. About 4,600 students signed up to receive messages, she adds.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board began in 2012 messaging college-bound graduates from Austin Independent School District to prevent summer melt. The board answered students’ questions about, among other topics, starting college and how to get to campus.
In 2014, the board began messaging incoming students on behalf of about 30 two- and four-year schools—and enrollments rose at those institutions. The board worked with the schools and outside marketing groups to customize messages for each campus.
But sending texts is only the first step—schools must ensure somebody responds to students when they reply with a question, says Jerel Booker, the assistant commissioner for the board’s College Readiness and Success Division.
“Texting is an easy, low-cost way to reach a lot of students to show them that the institutions care that they are there.”