Administrators, academic advisors, and financial aid officers may not be able to effectively support their students when communication lines are unreliable. This problem continues to affect universities, even when students seem more reachable through their smartphones. A study conducted by Baylor University found that college students spend more than eight hours a day on their phones, and other research shows 60 percent of them admit to cell phone and social media addiction.
For colleges, using these same digital avenues to reach students is easier said than done. Having a digitally-focused strategy can help institutions meet students where they spend a big portion of their time. But communication methods do vary, and each has its strengths and weaknesses, just as institutions have their own unique needs and resources.
Selecting an effective strategy is paramount. And for many, a ubiquitous, omnichannel approach is becoming more feasible. With ongoing advances in communication technology, institutions will need to keep up with the changing tide to successfully reach (or remain in touch with) their students.
Tip 1: Nudge them in the right direction
Recent findings have improved how college stakeholders should plan to use nudging to influence behavior among potential and current students. Research done at Brigham Young University showed that text nudging generated more student responses when messages came from a local number, with a message personalized to the recipient’s specific need, as opposed to a clearly automated message from an unfamiliar number.
Additionally, the University of Michigan found that a shared identity between nudge sender and receivers may improve results. Researchers focused University of Michigan-branded nudge materials on a specific audience: Michigan’s high-achieving, low-income high school seniors. With this strategy, researchers were able to roughly double both application and enrollment rates of this demographic.
Tip 2: Create an omnichannel experience
Messages and reminders are harder to ignore when the dialogue doesn’t disjoint from one medium to the next. It should pick up right where it left off. This means texting, emailing, direct mailing, and social media outreach should work together, culminating into an omnichannel experience.
According to the nonprofit Trellis Company (Trellis), physical direct mail and digital text nudging are more effective when used in conjunction when working with borrowers and students. Used alone, each method struggles to elicit the desired response. By utilizing multiple, coordinated communication channels, Trellis increases the probability of reaching borrowers where they live. The result is a more successful, reciprocal relationship between Trellis’ and its stakeholders.
Tip 3: Connect on social media
A clear benefit of having a social media presence is being involved in the increasingly digital lives of students. For example, institutions can provide support to a student venting on social media about a school-related grievance and ease their worries by providing them with the appropriate resources. Even interacting with positive, school-related posts is another active and engaging means of participation in a shared, digital space.
Sites dedicated to institutional use, like Canvas and Blackboard, can also be used to keep in contact. They offer options to create discussion boards and message directly. Additionally, video chatting allows institutional stakeholders to get virtual facetime. Some services, like Google Hangouts, allow users to screenshare. This can be useful for giving walkthroughs or explaining course schedules to students remotely.
Tip 4: Streamline your process with smart tech
Machine learning isn’t going to replace a human staff (yet), but advisors and administrators can benefit from it when taking on the daily flurry of student queries. Today, many universities employ chatbots, programmed with artificial intelligence (AI) to learn from interactions and give tailored responses based on requests. The University of Texas at Austin employs a chatbot on their Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid website. “Ask Bevo,” named after the school’s mascot, evaluates questions—even parts of questions or phrases—and answers them by offering pathways to the resources, information, or humans that can help best.
From four-year universities to community colleges, communication between students and institutions is a critical component for student success. The number of platforms on which to connect has grown, and omnichannel strategies can create a seamless dialogue across multiple media, both old and new. This varied approach to messaging and use of emerging technology can help students feel like their needs are more clearly addressed, while bolstering relationships between students and their schools. And that connection may last well beyond the student’s time on campus.