Texts I Wish I'd Received as an Online Student
Signal Vine employee and online student Rachel Hicks shares her thoughts on how colleges and universities can improve the student experience by engaging online students via text message
I’ve been an online learner in some fashion since fifth grade. I began with correspondence education and then moved to online learning for high school. Once I graduated with my diploma, I took a mix of in-person classes and online classes for college. Now, I’m six months (and four days) away from earning my master’s degree completely online.
Online learning is growing in popularity, which makes sense given what today’s college students are like. Almost half of today’s students are nontraditional over the age of 25. Many of these students juggle caring for their families, work, and school all at the same time. As a result, many students elect to take online classes accessible at any time of day so they can go to school when it’s convenient for them.
I’ve personally enjoyed online learning. Online classes have allowed me to work full-time while earning my master’s degree.
At the same time, it’s much easier for online students to feel disconnected from their universities. The only time many of us hear from our colleges is when we log onto our emails or online learning platforms. These methods of communication put a burden on students. They have to proactively log in to get connected.
This makes texting a great solution for engaging online students.
Texts I wish I’d received as an online student
Looking back, there are many types of texts I wish I’d received from my university. These texts would have helped me not only feel more connected to my university, but they would have also helped me better stay on track. I can’t always log on to my university platform. It would have been convenient for me, a busy online learner balancing work and school, to have received quick texts to help keep me on track.
From a staff member's perspective, it's worth noting that individual text messages don't have to be written for each student. With Signal Vine, a message with a specific communication goal can be targeted to students who meet certain criteria. If staff need to send a message to all students who just completed a class to announce their grade, this can be done by drafting a single message and using the platform's profile fields. The green text you'll see in sample texts below show when profile fields were used. Staff only have to draft a single message to send targeted, personalized messages to students.
Below, I’ll talk about texts I wish I’d received as an online student.
1. Admissions next steps and college acceptance
Working at Signal Vine has given me the opportunity to see how colleges and universities text students to guide them through the admissions process. This would have been awesome for me. I would have loved to receive texts from my university, nudging me to submit my application – and more importantly, updating me as I progressed through the funnel and became an enrolled student. As a student who is constantly on-the-go, I would have benefited from short text messages updating me on my status as an incoming student. (I would have also loved a party GIF to announce that I’d been accepted to my university!)
2. Regular check-ins
I’m fortunate to have an awesome academic advisor. She is attentive to my needs and consistently goes out of her way to help me with any issue I have.
My only complaint? She never seems to call me when it’s convenient because it’s never convenient.
I’m in the best of both worlds as a nontraditional, millennial student. My millennial genes tell me that phone calls are my worst enemy. My nontraditional genes dictate that I just don’t have time to dedicate to a phone call that can only happen during my work hours. I can, however, respond to a text from my academic advisor who texts to ask how I’m doing and if I have any questions. A text from her would scream that my university cares about how I prefer to be reached out to and not the other way around.
3. Scholarship opportunities
Grad school is expensive. I know that there are scholarship opportunities available to students at the graduate level. What I don’t know is which opportunities are a good fit for me. The only way I can check to see which scholarships are available from my university is to search for their obscure place within my student portal. I just don’t have the time to do this weekly – or even monthly. I’d rather have fitting opportunities come to me. This could have been my reality with targeted, personalized text messages.
4. When I receive a grade
I’m a bit compulsive when it comes to my grades. I don’t always have the time to hop into my online classroom to check for grades, but I’m constantly wondering if my work has been graded. I panic at the end of the term until I see an “A” safely secure in the empty slot for that term’s class. It would be far more convenient for me to get a text saying I’ve received a new grade. Better yet, it would help put a spring in my step, depending on the grade!
5. Club activity
I’m a member of my university’s communication club. I think. I honestly wouldn’t know because I hear so little from the club. I’m never notified of new activity or when a new member joins to welcome them. I don’t know about events until just before they happen.
Texting would revolutionize my participation in my club. If I received texts well ahead of time for club events and then a quick reminder a few days before them, I would have a much better chance of participating in those activities.
6. Class surveys
Once I finish each of my classes, I receive a link to a survey about the class when I log onto my student portal. However, I don’t always have time to log onto my student portal, especially not during my break before my next class. A text with the survey link would allow me to complete the survey while I’m on-the-go.
7. Alumni opportunities
As a university alum, my alma mater will always hold a special place in my heart. It has such a special place in my heart that I would love to give back to the university that gave me so much. Unfortunately, I never know when opportunities to give back are available. I only ever hear about them when I’m scrolling through Instagram and see photos from events that have already happened.
When I read about how the University of Pittsburgh uses Signal Vine to text alumni, I was both intrigued and jealous. I would love if my alma mater texted me about events for alumni. I would even love to receive texts asking for donations. It would make it much easier on me to give if I could do so through a simple text. Also, I would love if my alma mater checked in occasionally to see what I’ve been up to since I graduated. As a proud graduate, I would happily share my story, praising the university for the doors my education has opened for me. I’m a testimonial waiting to happen, yet I haven’t been approached to do so.
Texting alumni, particularly soon after they’ve graduated, has proven to produce positive results, as the University of Pittsburgh shows. It only makes sense for colleges and universities to text their grads for success stories, testimonials, and, of course, donations.
Engaging online students, while challenging, is necessary for students to feel connected. Texting is just as beneficial, if not more beneficial, to online students as it is to students who attend classes in-person. Because our education happens from a distance, we are at risk of feeling disconnected from our universities. It’s easy to slip into the mindset that we’re just a number. For institutions, this can make retaining online students a challenge in itself.
Signal Vine's partners have shown us that texting to retain students works by making students feel more connected to their college and reminding them of the steps they need to take to stay successful. Texting and engaging online students can help strengthen the relationship with online learners simply by communicating with students in the way that they often prefer.
You can learn more about texting students as they progress through their academic life cycle by viewing our Resources page.
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