What can we do to reach students and create a responsive atmosphere through our communications?
As a student myself, between school, work, and internships, I was sufficiently busy throughout my undergraduate career. When I received an email from the University, a simple series of questions ran through my mind:
1. Is the information in this email important to me?
2. Is this asking me to do anything?
3. Do I need to do it now, or can it be put off until later?
4. How do I do what needs to be done?
In many cases, I would receive emails entitled “News from University of “(fill in the blank)”. These emails would usually be ignored, because they contained no information that was pertinent to my studies specifically, but rather a broad range of information that didn’t require my attention. Sometimes I would receive an email entitled “Your e-Bill is available for viewing”. This email addressed me specifically, and in general I would consider the information worth the time to view. Every year I received an email stating something like “Please renew your parking pass before the upcoming academic year”. This email clearly asked me to take action, informed me of the time to do it, and I did it in a timely manner, right as parking passes were about to be released for sale. Finally, one of the most useful emails I received had a subject that sounded something like this: “Register for summer classes before they begin on June XX!” This email clearly stated what it was about, allowed me to determine its importance and what it was asking, showed me when it needed to be done by, and showed me how to do it in the email itself.
So, the question lies- does my own experience with communications from my school correlate with other student experiences?
Recently, the newly formed Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST) based out of the White House released its first annual report, and within this report much emphasis was placed on improving college access and affordability. The report exemplifies the utilization of low-cost emails and texts to encourage student enrollment and timely student loan management. Naturally I was interested to see these results, based on the wandering concerns from my previous experience.
Let’s look at some of the findings. With regards to texting, the report from the White House found that simple text reminders made a big difference when fighting summer melt. A group of 4,882 students were placed into two groups. One group received a text reminder over the summer to finish tasks and fill out forms to complete their enrollment process. The other group received no reminders. The study found that low-income student enrollment among the population that had received texts had jumped 8.6% in comparison with the control group.
A study in the U.K., also done in 2015, concluded that providing encouraging text messages to around half of 1179 students throughout the term of a course decreased the number of students that stopped attending courses by 36%, and lead to a 7% increase in average attendance in comparison to the control group. An earlier U.K. study on the collection of delinquent fines through alternative text messaging found that “text messages, which are relatively inexpensive, are found to significantly increase average payment of delinquent fines. We found text messages to be especially effective when they address the recipient by name.”
The SBST also conducted an experiment in which timely email reminders were sent to students after they missed their first loan payment. Settling on a subject line of “You missed a payment on your federal student loan”, they found that the fraction of students who made a payment grew by 29.6% compared with the control group who received no email reminder. Targeting individuals who missed payments more often, the SBST sent emails with information regarding IDR (Income-Driven Repayment) plans to over 800,000 students. The message, appropriately timed and consuming little cost, lead to a fourfold increase in applications for IDR plans (4,327 applications within 20 days of the email being sent).1
Based on this research, and my personal experience, text and email are effective modes of communication between the student and the institution, when used correctly and following guidelines that help to make the communication stand out as useful information. Like all communication, it requires a certain understanding of what is going to draw attention, and what is going to be simply skimmed over and archived or deleted. What draws attention is appropriate timing, clear importance, defined action to be taken, and how to do it.
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