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OCC: Using Student Data to Improve Academic Advising

improve advising services
Enrollment:
1,330
Type:
Public community college
Location:
Olney, IL
Customer Since:
2019

Overview

Olney Central College (OCC) is a public community college in Olney, IL. It is a member of the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges (IECC) district. The college offers nearly 50 academic programs that lead to associate degrees or technical certificates. Further, OCC offers online four-year degrees through a partnership with Franklin University. Out of the four colleges that are part of the IECC district, OCC has the largest student enrollment.

Challenges

OCC received a Title III Strengthening Institutions federal grant, which included an objective to improve its academic advising services. One of the major problems that staff note is that it is hard to communicate with students using certain methods. For instance, staff found that most students don’t check their email. Further, many students don’t have their voicemails set up to receive messages. As a result, staff found it challenging to reach students, whether they needed to remind them about an upcoming appointment or to fill out paperwork.

These challenges and need to improve academic advising services led to the exploration of text message services. After researching Signal Vine, staff decided to use its text messaging functions for student outreach.

Implementation

First, OCC staff decided to start with three programs within the Signal Vine platform: advising, nursing, and then a combined “support staff” program, which included financial aid, front line staff, and records. Staff note that the segmenting feature came in handy when reaching out to students. Advisors could only see students in their caseloads to avoid confusion. Also, this allowed advisors to text personal reminders, midterm and progress reports, and other information personal to each student. More recently, staff have branched out their programs, dividing the “support staff” program into three separate programs. Further, the team has created a program for the retention coordinator and recruiter.

Results

Since they began texting students, staff note that students are far more comfortable reaching out for help. In a way, texting “disarms” students before they even get to campus. Staff have seen increases in the number of students who seek out help on campus because they’ve already formed connections with staff. 

Staff used the Signal Vine platform to text students a survey in an effort to see if students were feeling better about the revamped advising services. The results showed that 86% of students were satisfied with the changes, including the use of text messages. Also, many students have noted their approval of the changes in face-to-face interactions and enjoy knowing that they can text whenever they need help.

Improve academic advising

The COVID-19 pandemic has also shaped the message content that is sent to students via text. The team uses texting to keep its campus community up-to-date on what is happening. Also, staff rely on texting to send students information on how to cope during this time, including how to handle their anxiety. They’ve let their students know they’re there for them and that help is just a text away.

Student perceptions

Students are comfortable with the idea of texting staff for help. Staff note that students eagerly text questions, many of which relate to the following topics:

  • how to add or drop a course
  • help with registering for class
  • transfer options after graduating
  • how to obtain a transcript
  • graduation requirements

Staff perceptions

Staff members at OCC note that texting has helped them improve academic advising services for students. Below are the thoughts of several staff members.

Ashley Bigard, Title III Advising Specialist:

Communication is changing quickly and the staff at Olney Central College are changing with it. Signal Vine has produced transformational changes within student services at Olney Central College. With the blended text messaging approach that Signal Vine offers, staff are building stronger relationships with students. I am excited to see what results the innovative platform will bring to Illinois Eastern Community Colleges.

Andi Pampe, Assistant Dean of Student Services:

Communication with students has become so easy and is a great time saver.  Rather than many calls and emails over time, we can text a student and get an immediate response similar to a face to face conversation.  It saves hours of reaching out and waiting time.  The implementation was not difficult and the staff at Signal Vine was and is amazing to work with! 

Linda Horn, OCC Program Advisor, Allied Health:

Using Signal Vine in the nursing department has been very instrumental in keeping students on track for the following: Appointments, class changes, requirement deadlines, meetings, registration, sending out faculty messages, handling student concerns faster, graduation – and group texting is just great.

Sheri Gray, OCC Academic Advisor:

As a new advisor, Signal Vine has made my transition easier communicating with the students. I was able to have immediate access to the students to introduce myself, and it prompted the students to reach out in return. Signal Vine helped to alleviate the awkwardness of meeting someone for the first time and helped the students to quickly feel comfortable with me.

Best practices

1. Consider your messages carefully.

The team makes strategic use out of the platform’s program and manual messages. They are careful to use each message type where it makes the most sense to give their students the best experience without overwhelming staff. Also, staff suggest keeping messages short and to the point. Finally, staff note that the more personalized the message content is, the better the response rate. Personalization is a key factor in each message that goes out to students.

2. Use the data that students provide.

The team regularly exports student data to analyze it and make sure their messages are meeting students where they are. As a result, future campaigns evolve to better assist and guide students. For example, many students ask questions regarding where to park the day of orientation. As a result, staff now text students ahead of time to let them know where they can park. Further, staff use this data to follow up in personal ways with students, such as nudging students who haven’t filed the FAFSA with a text to do so.

3. Schedule messages wisely.

When the team first began texting, they sent a pre-registration reminder text to students when several team members were out of the office. As a result of the text, they were shocked to receive 40 phone calls from students who wanted to make an appointment. Now, they are careful in choosing when to send messages and make sure that they have the staff capacity to handle responses before sending out a text to students.

4. Create a team-wide calendar to note when texts are scheduled.

This allows staff to get a notification on their individual calendars just before a message is scheduled to send from Signal Vine. This helps staff know when to make themselves available to answer any questions that come in.


The Title III program is supported in part by a five-year grant awarded to Olney Central College from the U.S. Department of Education effective October 1, 2018. The estimated total cost for all project activities is $2,506,775 financed by the grant award of $2,249,968 (90%) and $256,807 (10%) by Olney Central College.

Ashley Bigard, Title III Advising Specialist
Olney Central College

Communication is changing quickly and the staff at Olney Central College are changing with it. Signal Vine has produced transformational changes within student services at Olney Central College. With the blended text messaging approach that Signal Vine offers, staff are building stronger relationships with students. I am excited to see what results the innovative platform will bring to Illinois Eastern Community Colleges.

Communicating effectively with your campus communities is of paramount importance right now

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