University of Texas: Improving Advising Relationships
The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is a tier-1 public research institution. It serves as the flagship institution of the University of Texas System. UT Austin is home to more than 51,000 students and 24,000 faculty and staff. The Student Success Initiatives (SSI) team, part of The Division of Enrollment Management, began an advising unit as part of an advising efficacy study. The study challenged the team to utilize academic advising analytics to provide proactive interventions for a group of students on campus.
When the advising unit began within SSI at UT Austin, the advisors examined the advising practices that already existed across the campus. Typically, advisors and students communicated through email or in-person contact. Students’ inboxes were constantly bombarded with campus emails, and an email from an advisor could easily be buried in the student’s inbox. Phone calls were most likely missed, and students only spoke with their advisor for mandatory meetings. SSI advisors were experiencing relatively low response rates from attempted emails, phone calls, and in-person visits. These advisors wanted to increase student engagement while improving advising relationships. Additionally, staff wanted to provide timely nudges to promote specific behaviors from students.
SSI deployed the Signal Vine texting platform in March 2017. The unit hoped to increase high-quality interactions between students and academic advisors. In the first year of texting, the two-person advising unit sent almost 13,000 text messages and received more than 5,100 incoming texts from students. These text messages discussed everything from major changes, dropping classes, family issues, to financial struggles, and more. Through this transformative communication tool, advisors were able to provide immediate support, improving advising relationships.
The SSI team learned that texting students radically changed the relationship between advisors and their students. Advisors had a 98% engagement rate with students, even though advising was not mandatory for any of the students. Advisors also experienced an unprecedented amount of student-initiated contact, contact that occurred without receiving a prior nudge from an advisor. Contacts initiated by students via text were more than two times the amount of contacts via email, in person, and phone combined. The reasons students reached out to their advisor through Signal Vine covered a wide range of topics, such as dropping a class, discussing performance on an exam, experience a difficult family situation, asking for campus resources, or updating their advisor on a positive life event.
During busy advising times, personalized texting allowed the SSI advisors to target students who needed immediate in-person advising to drop a class or resolve a problem. Texting allowed advisors to cultivate a meaningful and impactful relationship with each student, rather than a strictly transactional engagement. For instance, advisors were able to carry on conversations with students even when they were not on campus, including texting in the summer to check on enrollment at a community college. Finally, staff noted that the availability and speed of text messaging enhanced relationships that advisors had with their students. This was because both advisors and students could reach out whenever they needed to provide or receive help, respectively.
Through their continued work with Signal Vine, SSI at UT Austin has utilized a series of best practices through their work with Signal Vine. These include the following:
- Not every student needs every message.
- Messages must be relevant and timely.
- Message must be personal and informative.
- Develop a strategic communication calendar.
- Send text nudges 3-5 days before deadlines. Provide enough, but not too much, lead time.
- Send no more than 3-5 mass messages per month.
- Include a call to action that directs students to the desired outcome (e.g. linking to registration website).
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