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The Importance of Communication in Higher Education

SMS text messaging has become a valuable asset for businesses to deepen customer relationships. But it’s not only in the commercial sphere that text messaging is showing its worth. Colleges and universities are using text messaging to improve their interactions with both current and prospective students. A research report by Megan M. Tippetts et al. in navigating Higher Education (Res High Educ) declares,

As colleges and universities strive to increase persistence and aid students in reaching graduation, they are utilizing alternative communication strategies like text messaging. Behavioral economics researchers suggest personalized, regular nudges can help college students make decisions that positively impact their college career and keep them on track for graduation.

In today’s post-pandemic world, attracting students to a higher education campus (physical or virtual) and keeping them on track for graduation has become more challenging. High-quality, personalized communication between educational institutions and students is critical to student success.

But how does a school’s use of text messaging improve students’ academic success and graduation rates? Let’s take a look.

The Text Messaging Advantage

During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses increased their use of A2P (app-to-person) text messaging by 77%. Now, as the worst effects of the pandemic seem to have passed, text messaging continues to grow: business users have discovered that SMS texting offers advantages that other communications avenues can’t match.

Those advantages start with the fact that, according to the Pew Research Center Mobile Fact Sheet, 97% of Americans own a cellphone. And they like using their phones for text messaging—85% of smartphone users would rather communicate by texting than by email or phone calls, and 90% of them will open a text message within three minutes of the time it’s received.

According to Gartner, consumers open 98% of their texts and respond to 45% of them. And, as Tech Jury reports, at 9.18%, the click-through rate (CTR) for text messages is far higher than for alternatives such as email, which has an average CTR of only 2.62%.

Text Messaging in Higher Education

Today’s students are even more comfortable with text messaging than the general population. The Pew Research Center’s Mobile Fact Sheet reports that, as of 2021, 100% of Americans in the 18-29 age range own cell phones. And most students today consider using their phones for texting to be an integral part of their academic lives. In a recent survey, college students said they used a digital device 9.06 times during a typical school day, and 84.6% of that usage was for texting.

Today’s students live busy lives and face many distractions while navigating the academic environment. Catching and holding their attention is vital if a school is to provide them with the support and guidance they need for success. Both academic research and practical experience have demonstrated that one of the best ways of doing that is through “nudging” — brief, targeted text messages sent to students from their academic advisors.

Text messaging between students and advisors can be transformative. Jeremy Tiers, Senior Director of Admissions Services at Tudor Collegiate Strategies, cites the case of one student who said,

“I didn’t think my counselor was a real person until she immediately replied to my text. I was like you really do exist. She talked to me like a friend and was so kind and helpful.”

Tiers also notes that many students say that text messaging is the most effective means for colleges to reach them because “most of us are always on our phones” and “we miss a lot of the emails that colleges are sending because we hardly check it.”

Why Text Messaging Has Become an Essential Tool in Modern Higher Education

Both research and experience have shown that connecting with students (and potential students) through text messaging is a highly effective means of providing the regular “nudges” they need if they are to stay on track in their academic careers.

Those interventions should start even before students enroll. According to University Business, two-thirds of incoming college students and their parents would welcome text messaging that presents key information or reminds them of important dates. That finding is born out by how prospective students respond to texts from schools in which they are interested. As one Admissions Director reports,

“We are seeing a 50% response rate from text messages, a 20-fold increase from email response rates of about 1-2%”

Students today have their own needs and expectations regarding the communications they receive from colleges and universities. As Lou Riordan, Director at the market research firm F’inn notes:

“Many higher ed marketers are focusing their communication on Gen Z as their primary student population, and this group has unique preferences that require a different approach to messaging than the other generations we looked at.”

Because Gen Z is even more attuned to text messaging than previous generations, texting allows colleges and universities to tailor their communications to the preferences of that population.

The need for text message communication from the institution doesn’t end when a student enrolls. Rather, it increases. In fact, such messaging can have a significant impact on a student’s academic progress. As one academic research report declares,

SMS delivery platforms are being increasingly used at the university level to enhance student achievement as well as traits and attitudes related to the learning process.

The researchers note that in their study, the use of SMS text messaging to provide access to learning materials contributed to enhancements in motivation, curiosity, autonomy, creativity, flexibility, and self-image on the part of students.

Ways Text Messaging Can Be Used for Higher Ed Communication

Let’s look at some specific ways colleges and universities use text messaging.

Admissions

Text messaging helps cultivate personal relationships with students even before they enroll. Higher Ed institutions use SMS for marketing, recruiting, applicant status updates, and admission confirmation notices. For example, an admissions officer might send a text to alert a prospective student to expect a phone call later in the day to discuss the enrollment process. In an article for University Business, Mirko Widenhorn, Ed.D., declares that this approach has been shown to work well.

Advisor Services

According to Missouri State University,

Text messaging has emerged as a highly effective means of communicating with today’s college students. “Nudging” students to make an appointment with an advisor, complete a financial aid application, or register for classes can improve student success. 

Alumni Engagement

Staying in touch with graduates of your institution is critically important. You’ll want to reach them with information about on-campus events, news that impacts the institution, opportunities for reunions or other special meetings, and, perhaps, encouragement to donate.

But these days, when spam-shy consumers normally ignore attempts to reach them by email or phone calls from sources they don’t know, maintaining contact with alums can be challenging. Text messaging, with its extraordinarily high rates of reading and response, provides an effective means of maintaining that connection.

Career Services

You can help graduating students with their job placement by sending personalized text messages concerning job listings, career fairs, internship opportunities, campus speakers, and other career-related information.

Emergency Alerts

Schools often must communicate with the entire campus community about urgent or emergency conditions that may impact their safety. Almost all students have their cell phones with them almost all the time. When notified of an incoming message, they’ll look at it often within seconds, making text messaging the perfect method for imparting urgent information as quickly as possible.

Enrollment Reminders

With so much going on as high school seniors prepare for graduation and work toward being accepted into the college or university of their choice, they easily lose track of important dates or deadlines. But you can help them stay on top by sending mass text messages to your incoming students to remind them of important checkpoint dates or requirements.

Event Notifications

You can use mass text messages to students, prospects, and staff to increase attendance at important events. Whether it’s a sporting event, career fair, meet-and-greet, open house, volunteer opportunity, or any other event important to your college or university community, text messaging will often be the most efficient and effective way to get the word out. Not only can your text serve as a reminder, but it can also include a link that recipients can use to sign up for the event.

Financial Aid Information

Financial aid applications often present students with inflexible deadlines they must be careful to meet. Institutions can direct mass text messages to incoming classes to outline the process and remind them of important dates and document requirements. For example, Tippetts et al. cite a randomized field experiment (RFE) in which text messages reminded students at a community college to refile their FAFSA. The study concluded that students who participated were 14% more likely to be continuously enrolled through the spring of their sophomore year.

In addition, the bi-directional capability of text messaging allows advisors to interactively guide individual students through the process when that kind of assistance is needed.

Recruitment

Today’s students grew up in an era in which it’s the norm for personalized, interactive marketing outreach efforts to reach them through their smartphones. They expect the same experience with your admissions staff as they consider enrolling in your institution. As the Notre Dame University of Maryland notes, Gen Z is the first generation to grow up as digital natives, and most prefer digital rather than personal communications.

Reminders

As we’ve seen, timely text message reminders can benefit prospective students during admissions. But it doesn’t end there. Once students enroll, institutions can use text messaging to remind them of important issues such as course registration deadlines, payment due dates, upcoming tests, and even homework or assignment deadlines.

Student Feedback

Bi-directional text messaging provides a convenient means for getting input from students. For example, SMS can be used for voting, survey responses, and RSVPs for meetings or events.

How Personalized, Two-Way Text Messaging Benefits Students

The U.S. Department of Education describes advisors as a “principal academic resource” whose main function “is to bring holistic support to students as they navigate their higher education to post-grad journey.” According to a study by Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, Associate Professor of Human Communication Studies at Cal State, Fullerton, two-way text messaging can play a vital role in establishing a sense of connectedness between students and their academic advisors:

Supportive text messages can help students feel less isolated, stressed and depressed compared to students who receive little to no text-based support.

Suwinyattichaiporn found that students are comfortable with online counseling because they believe the quality will be as high as in-person counseling. She notes that

“Young people felt safe and protected from negative responses when engaging in counseling via texting.”

Recent research studies show that when students have a good relationship with their advisors, they’re more likely to succeed in their academic careers.  Text messaging can play a vital role in establishing and maintaining that relationship.

Establishing a Foundation for Text Messaging Success

As we’ve seen, effective outreach to students using text messaging will sometimes involve sending bulk messages to a wide pool of recipients. At other times, require personalized, bi-directional interactions with individuals. The key to taking full advantage of SMS texting in Higher Education is to use a text messaging platform that combines mass texting capabilities with the capacity for personalized two-way texting at scale.

TrueDialog offers a text messaging software solution that fully enables mass messaging and personalized, interactive modes of operation. Plus, TrueDialog understands the communication process between schools and their students and can help you establish an effective outreach and support program for current and prospective students.

Contact us today to schedule a demo if you’d like to see first-hand how TrueDialog can help you communicate more effectively with your university or college community.