Missouri State: Achieving Student Success with Texting
Missouri State University (MSU) is a public four-year institution with three locations in Missouri and one in Dalian, China. Its student population consists of more than 26,000 students. MSU offers more than 170 majors and programs to students.
MSU staff wanted to rewire their student communication plan. At first, they wanted to be able to connect with first-year students. A challenge that MSU faced was that students would make appointments with their advisors and not show up. Staff wanted to increase the number of students who made and kept their appointments with their advisors.
Also, staff found that students with a 2.5 GPA or lower were more likely to drop out. So, they wanted to find a way to connect with students who were more at risk of dropping out due to lower GPAs.
With these needs in mind, staff first turned to email outreach. After testing this, they realized that it was difficult to target email outreach. Even worse, they noticed that email outreach wasn’t effective in terms of getting students to answer calls-to-action. Not only were they difficult to deliver via email, but students just weren’t responding or taking action.
At this time, Dr. Kelly Wood, now Associate Provost for Student Success at MSU, and members of enrollment services began hearing more about nudging students toward outcomes. They read the research that proved that nudges sent through texts can inspire students to take action. With this research in tow, Dr. Wood and a small staff team turned to Signal Vine to help achieve student success with texting.
To get started, Dr. Wood called in a team from MSU – staff from each advising program, the registrar’s office, the office of financial aid, and student success. This implementation team would help with the initial text outreach to get the program up and running. Once the data fields were created and the programs identified, Signal Vine staff conducted an in-person training to help the team get started.
MSU sent its first text to students on May 16, 2018 – the last day of finals for students. Soon after, the registrar’s office did a major push via text. Previously, staff had noticed that many students would register for intersession (a class held in the two-week period between classes) but forget they registered. As a result, students were billed for a class they forgot to take. The registrar’s office issued a text to remind those students who registered for an intersession class to attend. Further, the text offered help to students to drop the class if needed. As a result of this first text from the registrar’s office, fewer students dropped the class, there were fewer appeals, and overall fewer issues to address than the registrar’s office was used to.
MSU staff note that they have witnessed student success with texting. First, Dr. Wood highlights the 1 point increase in fall-to-fall retention (32 students) she noticed during MSU’s first year of texting. Staff send texts to those students with lower GPAs who are most at-risk of dropping out to put them in touch with academic coaches to help them. Further, staff use texting to communicate with and retain first-year students. Texting has helped staff to reach students, connect with them, and guide them through their academic journey.
Also, MSU is pleased with the decrease in missed advising appointments. Some staff choose to send reminders to students to let them know they have an appointment coming up soon. As a result, more students are attending their appointments.
Staff also comment that Signal Vine has given them the ability to easily scale their efforts. MSU began by texting only around 2,500 freshmen. Now, they text 7,700 students and hope to have their entire campus engaged via text message in another year. Being able to segment students and target the right students with the right message at the right time has helped MSU keep students on the right path. In turn, student retention has been on the rise.
Texting During COVID-19
When college campuses around the country closed their doors in March and April 2020, MSU staff decided that texting would be a great way to keep in touch with students from a distance. Staff created a COVID hotline in early April – the time during which students would have normally been registering for next semester’s classes. Staff sent a text to ask if students needed anything and how they were doing. Further, they invited students to text in questions at any time as they navigated the challenges of COVID-19.
MSU’s President promoted the hotline, which proved to be a successful endeavor. The hotline continued to help MSU achieve student success with texting by getting students to open up about their concerns. Even better, staff were able to communicate that students weren’t alone and that they had resources available to them when they needed them. Now, the Student Success Hotline is the Student Success Infoline to answer any questions about advising, classes, and the pandemic at large.
Dr. Wood highlights a few texting best practices that she has gathered from her years of experience with achieving student success with texting.
1. Texts must be backed by the right data.
When MSU first began texting, staff members were eager to use as many profile fields as possible to help them identify students. However, they soon found this to be overwhelming. Since then, they’ve narrowed the data fields to those that are most important and can best help them target and personalize their messages to reach the right students. Dr. Wood notes that using data with text outreach is a must and that without strong data, a text campaign loses its effectiveness.
2. Choose the right people/departments to pilot a text program.
Dr. Wood learned early into her texting journey that choosing the right people from the right departments to start texting is crucial. She notes that she asked staff members who were eager to begin texting students to help her pilot texting at MSU. As a result, she had help with generating buy-in across additional departments. Once other departments saw the strong results that texting yielded, those staff members became excited about it. This has allowed MSU to continue scaling its text outreach.
3. Make sure staff members are available to answer texts when an outgoing text is sent.
Dr. Wood notes that once a text is sent, there will likely be many students who respond with questions or concerns. It helps to have multiple staff members ready to answer text messages whenever an outgoing text is scheduled. This helps to ensure that no one staff member feels overwhelmed by student responses.
To my pleasant surprise, Signal Vine has partnered with Missouri State University each step of the way as we develop and test different communication strategies. They provide the tools and the support to help us reach our student success goals.
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