Pellissippi State Community College: Increasing Retention and GPA
The Student Assistance Center at Pellissippi State Community College uses Signal Vine to support Tennessee Promise scholarship students. Advisors use Signal Vine to text nearly 1,500 students across three campuses. In a single semester of using Signal Vine, Pellissippi State improved students’ GPAs and increased persistence into the next semester.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission issued a challenge to community colleges: develop and implement innovative projects to support Tennessee Promise scholarship recipients. Projects had to improve retention and completion rates at the community college. They also had to incorporate technology and a proactive advising model. Pellissippi State chose to meet the state’s challenge by using a text messaging platform to connect with students.
Pellissippi State’s top two priorities for text messaging are to 1) personalize communications and 2) proactively engage students.
The first step in creating a personalized text messaging program is to connect students directly with their advisors. Pellissippi State divides its 1,500 Tennessee Promise students into twelve caseloads – one for each advisor. Advisors safely text back-and-forth through the platform with students in their caseloads about registration, scholarship requirements, and other topics.
The Student Assistance Center jumpstarts this one-on-one engagement by sending scheduled reminders to all Tennessee Promise students. These “mass” text messages are personalized to each student and look like they’re coming directly from an advisor’s cellphone.
Text messages are designed to prompt responses and actions from students. Many text messages ask a question. For example, the Center scheduled a text in May that said, “First Name, just wanted to let you know that fall registration is underway. Were you planning on taking classes in the fall?” Most of the responses came back within ten minutes of sending that message.
Once students know that they can reach their advisors by text message, they use text messaging as a “catch-all.” Students initiate conversations with their advisors on any and all topics, using advisors as a universal resource.
Pellissippi State measures student engagement and message response rates in the Signal Vine dashboard. The average message response rate is 86.7%, with nearly half of students considered highly engaged.
The personal and proactive approach of Pellissippi State advisors effectively nudges students to take action. Students who engage with their advisors through text messaging are more likely than their peers to register for the next semester of classes, pushing the community college closer to its retention and completion goals.
An additional benefit of the text messaging program is improved academic performance. Students who participate in the text messaging program have higher GPAs than their peers by an average of .27 points after one semester of the program. The increases in persistence and GPA are measured after controlling for other variables.
We felt that texting would be the natural complement to a proactive advising model where we were going to meet with students frequently and provide the appropriate information and resource referrals as they need it.
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