Weber State University: Communicating with First-Year Students Before They Get to Campus
Weber State University is a public university located in Ogden, Utah, and has an enrollment of 26,000+. Their First-Year Transition program is designed to support historically underrepresented, first-generation, and low-income students. The program administrators had limited resources, escalating needs for targeted support and connections. Furthermore, this gave rise to a series of interrelated questions:
- How to create a scalable and cost-effective two-way communication channel that bolsters admitted students wavering over attendance and helps matriculated students persist through the first year?
- How to maximize the value of peer mentors to incoming freshmen?
- How to establish a communication strategy that resonated with digital native students while enabling sufficient oversight of messaging, responses, and action steps?
In 2016, the First-Year Transition team worked with Signal Vine to use the Blended Messaging® platform to employ nudges to pinpoint students at risk of melting; harness mentors to shape messaging; implement a coordinated message campaign tied to first-year milestones; and provide WSU the abilities to oversee and manage the entire campaign while maintaining high-touch elements.
WSU worked together with Signal Vine to:
Focus communication strategy on text messaging
WSU wanted to utilize texting as smartphones are where today’s students operate the most and have much less “noise” than other channels. A mobile-centric strategy guaranteed response rates superior to the previous email-based approach.
Develop a messaging calendar
First-Year Transition staff accessed a calendar that managed which messages were sent to different students based on their attributes per the university’s databases (admitted vs. matriculated) and upcoming deadlines (orientation, end of the semester). The guiding principles on scheduling is to send texts 3-5 days before a deadline and do not send more than 3-5 mass texts per month.
Combine peer mentor input and best practice templates to craft messages
WSU tapped the expertise of peer mentors and Signal Vine’s messaging templates to create a series of messages tailored to Gen Z preferences.
Deploying texts to nudge students, having two-way conversations with students, and targeting high-touch interventions benefitted the team, first-year students, mentors, and WSU.
Reduced summer melt
WSU sent texts to admitted students nudging them about deadlines tied to matriculation. For instance, in mid-July students were asked if they finished registering for fall classes. Evidently, the responses or lack thereof are an early-warning system that the student is at risk of melting. Moreover, just starting communications with students can spark conversations about issues wholly unrelated to the original message but concerning the student. Additionally, the registration text prompted admitted students to ask for help with issues impeding enrollment. Replies include the following:
- Where can I find out how much my first semester will cost?
- How do you transfer credits?
- I still need help. I don’t know exactly what classes to register for.
- I’ve registered for four classes but I’m not sure if that is enough.
Increased bandwidth of WSU staff
The calendar harnesses artificial intelligence to guide message personalization and scheduling. Additionally, the team schedules texts for orientation and registration sets up automated replies based on a student’s response and receives alerts when a reply indicates that a one-on-one conversation is necessary. Also, the message portfolio and calendar work together to free up First-Year Transition staff and peer mentors from time-consuming logistical and tracking duties.
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