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How to Reach Community College Students

by Rachel Hicks | September 19, 2019
How to Reach Community College Students

facts about community college students
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Community colleges are growing in popularity. More and more, students are seeing them as a viable – sometimes preferred – alternative to traditional four-year institutions. The stigma that community colleges were somehow a secondary option to universities is disappearing fast. With national upward trends in enrollment numbers, it’s crucial that staff know how to reach community college students. But first, they must understand who they are.

Changing demographics

If you read our Student Retention Guidebook, you’re already well prepared for this discussion. Between Gen Z students, who already make up the most diverse generation in modern American history, and unprecedented numbers of adult learners, low-income students, and students of diverse ethnic backgrounds, it’s more challenging than ever to define what a portrait of “today’s college student” looks like.

Still, we can make some assumptions on how to reach community college students from what we know about them. One assumption we can make about these students is that they have a smartphone. While 8% of us overall have a smartphone, 96% of people ages 18 to 29 do. Further, 92% of people ages 30 to 49 do. These age groups represent a large chunk of students. As a result, this makes texting come to mind as a solution for how to reach community college students.

How to create engagement to retain students

Retention among community college students is relatively low. Just over 62% of these students enrolled in Fall 2016 were still enrolled in Fall 2017. Not even half of these students returned to the same college.

Clearly, this is a retention use case. College staff can use texting to reach these students to help them persist through their educational journey. From helping students know exactly where to go on campus if they need help to periodic check-ins to make sure everything is going okay, staff can use texting as part of their outreach strategy. The best part is with Signal Vine, staff can automate and target these messages, sending to as few or as many students as needed.

How to provide students with the resources to graduate

Disturbingly, only around 39% of community college students enrolled as of Fall 2012 earned a credential within six years. This even accounts for students who transfer to a university. Simply, students aren’t finishing their degree programs.

Colleges have already taken steps to combat this problem. One of these measures has been to implement Guided Pathways. This approach helps students in various ways. First, students know from the beginning what their academic roadmap looks like. They know exactly which classes they’ll need to take to complete their program and which classes will transfer if they plan to continue their education elsewhere. They even have a good idea of what careers they’ll be able to obtain, an important consideration for most community college students. Finally, college staff closely monitor students’ progress on their pathways. That way, if students begin to falter, college staff can reach out early to help.

Guided Pathways are just one approach that colleges can take to ensure students stay enrolled. Simply reaching out to students and asking what, if any, barriers they’re facing in completing their education and helping them eliminate them can help students stay on the right track.

how to reach community college students

How to proactively engage students on deadlines to increase FAFSA filings

It’s a well-known fact that students cite the cost of college as being a major barrier to completion. More than two-thirds of community college students have a family income of less than $50,000 per year. This means they are likely Pell-eligible. However, only 6% of community college students file the FAFSA. That’s the lowest application rate of any student sector. The students who need the aid the most are often the ones leaving money on the table.

Financial aid is a well-known use case for texting. Some staff use texting to nudge students to complete the FAFSA. Others use it to help students understand financial aid jargon. Our partners have demonstrated some of the unique ways to use texting to help students with financial aid. Community college students would particularly benefit from this form of outreach. Nudges to complete the FAFSA and information about local FAFSA workshops would help them remember to file the application while understanding why it’s so important.

One of the best features of Signal Vine is the ability to target students based on what they have and have not done. For example, college staff can target students who haven’t yet filed a FAFSA. Then, staff can target those students with a personalized message, nudging them to get it done before the deadline.

how to reach community college students

How to provide a student experience that shows the value of college

It can be easy for students to lose sight of the “bigger picture” while completing their degree. While many community college students strive to complete their degree to get a good job afterward, it can be easy to forget while studying for back-to-back exams what that degree will mean. Reminding students of the value of earning a college credential can go a long way. Not only do college graduates earn more, but they are more likely to be more secure and satisfied with their jobs and happier overall. These little reminders can help students strive to push on and earn their degree or credential.

how to reach community college students

Read how community colleges staff are using texting to reach their students

Signal Vine partners with community colleges from all across the country. They've taught us a lot about how texting can be used to reach community college students. You can read about a few of their texting journeys here.

Learn how automation and texting can improve your Guided Pathways approach.
Learn how automation and texting can improve your Guided Pathways approach.
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