UTC: Maintaining Enrollment Through COVID-19
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) is a public university that serves more than 11,000 students. UTC offers more than 120 majors and academic programs to students. This includes a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs across several colleges within the university.
When UTC moved online as a result of COVID in Spring 2020, they realized that their communications weren’t reaching their current students, who were studying remotely and online. Also, UTC realized that they weren’t reaching their prospective students. These prospects would report getting stuck during the application process. To complicate things, because of the pandemic, prospects couldn’t just walk in and get the help they needed to apply. To try and assist “stuck” prospects, staff began sending emails that listed the steps required to become a student. These lists made sense to staff members, but unfortunately, prospects often felt confused with so much information given at once.
As a result, UTC adopted texting into their communications strategy to communicate with prospective students. Further, they use texting to clear any roadblocks prospects have during the application process. Also, they use texting to communicate with current students to boost student engagement during COVID.
UTC staff soon realized that prospective students, while they were not responding to email outreach or phone calls, were happy to respond to text messages. In this way, UTC has been able to see multiple effective uses for texting to boost student engagement during COVID.
Since UTC was also remote and online during the summer months, they implemented Signal Vine quickly and in a short amount of time.
During this time, UTC’s students were in various classroom arrangements. Primarily, students were – and still are – taking classes in various online formats, with the university offering about 30% of courses in-person.
According to UTC, the benefits of Signal Vine to their student outreach are multifold.
First, texting helped UTC expand its student outreach. For instance, texting allowed them to clear up confusing steps in the admissions process instantly. Moreover, students who might have felt embarrassed to ask specific questions in person were more comfortable asking these questions in a real-time text conversation with someone.
With all of this said, UTC has been able to maintain retention and enrollment numbers through the pandemic. It is also important to note that the state of Tennessee offers free community college, and they were also able to combat that challenge. Students stayed and enrolled at UTC – a direct result of the use of texting to boost student engagement during COVID.
Also, UTC saw successful engagement numbers with their summer orientation and enrollment activities through a combination of both texting and email outreach. They intend to replicate this model of engagement next year as well.
In regard to using texting to initiate pandemic-oriented initiatives, UTC is currently exploring how Signal Vine can be used to help with contact tracing. They’re also investigating the use of texting to get flu vaccine information out to their student population to keep their campus community as safe as possible.
There are three specific and unique best practices that UTC staff have noted.
1. Do a pulse check.
UTC has found great success with sending a “pulse check” to their students. UTC staff send out a communication that asks students how “charged” they feel. For instance, a student might select a medium-charged battery to show they are only okay. A more confident student might select a fully charged battery. From there, UTC staff members are able to follow up with the students whose “batteries” needed charging. The next time they do this campaign, they plan to use texting to be able to record responses and have interaction with UTC staff members that will provide them with needed support and resources.
2. “Sign off” on texts.
UTC found that texts that included a staff member’s name at the end were far more personable and effective. This shows students that they are texting with real people.
3. Assign only certain staff members to texting projects.
Finally, UTC mentions that they’ve seen good results when they’ve designated specific staff members to write texts. For UTC, this meant that they chose staff members who both enjoyed and understood the purpose of text outreach and also had a bit of wit. Students, in turn, engaged more with the texts because of the engaging and heartfelt tone of the messages.
Being able to reach our students via text during COVID has been an absolute game-changer for us. There are so many important pieces of information that we have to relay week in and week out, and just like so many of us, students are inundated with marketing emails and spam calls that end up absolutely burying our attempts to reach them through those mediums. With Signal Vine, we can make sure we get that one-on-one contact and deliver that critical info right where we know the student will see it.
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