Southwest Tennessee Community College: Texting to Increase Retention and Enrollment
Southwest Tennessee Community College (Southwest) is based in Memphis, Tennessee. The college offers more than 120 majors that lead to certificates and associate degrees.
Southwest’s enrollment and retention numbers were declining. By 2016, enrollment had dropped seven years in a row. Similarly, graduation rates were not on the right track. At that time, college staff were using a one-way texting platform to reach students. As a result of these sharp declines, the Retention & Student Success team realized that they needed to rethink how they communicate with students. They wished to communicate with students and not always to them via one-way texting.
At first, staff tried to use email for student outreach. However, email proved to be ineffective. The team realized that students were only reading some emails. As a result, staff agreed that they needed a real-time, two-way method of communication that would engage students, inform them of student supports in place, and also make way for a call to action should one need to be sent.
The Advising Office coordinated the implementation of the Signal Vine two-way texting platform. Around 14 professional academic advisors (PAAs) were trained to use Signal Vine. Then, Southwest staff tested the platform by texting Tennessee Promise students who had just finished high school. Staff scheduled texts with event invitations, deadline reminders, and general check-ins. At first, PAAs took turns checking for student texts through the day. The team chose to send texts every Monday and Thursday to help students get in the routine of receiving important information via text.
Later, staff scaled the reach of the program to include all 9,000+ students. Instead of taking turns to check for texts, the Retention & Student Success program specialists and PAAs divided students into caseloads, a change that was warmly accepted by students. Now, advisors, enrollment staff, and financial aid staff have access to text students. The team has broadened their discussion topics with students as well. Now, staff send texts regarding barriers to success, advising needs, e-weekly announcements, and tech needs.
Signal Vine has proven to be a solution to address the student success needs of Southwest. After the Signal Vine texting platform was scaled school-wide, staff saw a 20 percent increase in graduation credentials, year over year. Further, retention has increased by 3 to 6 percentage points for the past 2 years. In 2018-2019, Southwest’s enrollment numbers moved the college forward to becoming the second largest community college in the State of Tennessee.
Among the Tennessee Promise (traditional learners) Tennessee Reconnect (adult learners) populations, fall-to-spring retention is nearly 80 percent. College staff also note a large increase in spring-to-spring enrollment over the past year. Finally, the college has experienced a notable increase in performance funding as a result of the college’s holistic success efforts, which includes the strategic use of the Signal Vine two-way texting platform.
Beyond stronger student success numbers, Southwest staff also find that students engage more with staff through texting. Students are more apt to provide college staff with feedback. Tennessee Promise students are more active in their communities and perform more community service projects since reminders and opportunities are being sent to them via text message.
Southwest’s President, Dr. Tracy Hall, notes, “Our recent Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) performance funding scorecard indicates we are making gains in quality assurance. We earned 90 of 100 points on the Student Learning & Engagement and Student Access & Success scales. This represents a 22 percent increase over the last year.”
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