Once and For All: Is Texting Students Effective?
At Signal Vine, we’re clearly fond of texting, hence our employment here. However, we admit that fondness of texting doesn’t mean much if it’s not producing tangible, measurable results for our partners.
Lately, there’s been some speculation on whether text nudges work. If you’re wondering, Is texting students effective?, you’re not alone. It’s actually a question that we ask ourselves periodically. We know that in the beginning, texting students was effective. Research showed that students who received texts were 14 percent more likely to matriculate to a two-year college as a result of one texting intervention. We witnessed a 6 percentage point increase in matriculation among students who had no college plans before receiving text messages. We also saw that students who received texts were 12 percentage points more likely to continue on to their second year of college.
But things change. Students change. The students who used to benefit from texting have graduated, and a new group of students is now here. This is exactly why we are constantly communicating with researchers, our partners, and students themselves to make sure what was effective yesterday is still effective today.
The good news? Yes, texting is still an effective way to reach out to students. The rest of the news? …with some caveats.
Let’s discuss this.
1. Texting works…when you take the time to develop a relationship with message recipients.
One of the first things our Implementation team reviews with new partners is how important an introductory text is. Putting yourself in the shoes of your students is the easiest way to find out why. If you got a text from an unknown number with no background as to who the sender is, what would you do? You’d likely block the number.
This is why it’s so important to work hard to build a relationship with your message recipients. We recommend sending out a first text that looks something like this:
Let’s break this message down into a few important components. Blue means a best practice; orange means a required component.
We recommend answering three main questions in the introductory text to students:
- Who are you? (builds a rapport with students for all future messages)
- Why are you texting? (shows why students shouldn’t opt out)
- How can students opt out? (a legal requirement per the FCC)
Making your texts personal to students and attaching a familiar name, such as the name of your college/university, will help add a personal, relevant touch for students to connect with.
Example: The University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin has done a great job of creating a personal connection with students. In fact, they built such a strong relationship with their students that they experienced a 98% engagement rate with them. The kicker? Advising wasn’t mandatory for these students. Students, on their own volition, reached out to advisors, mainly through text, to talk to an advisor. This serves as a clear answer to the question, Is texting students effective? when a personal relationship is built with students beforehand.
2. Texting works…when messages are targeted and personalized for each student.
A moment ago, we talked about how personalization matters in text messages. It’s worth mentioning again because a personal, targeted approach makes all the difference. In fact, it’s why some messages are marked as helpful and others are marked as spam.
Personalization is no longer optional in the field of higher ed. Simply, students demand that outreach is personalized for them. Just like we pay for Netflix to show us content relevant to us, students demand this same level of attention from their colleges and universities.
Example: West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission
Research out of West Virginia shows that these targeted, personalized nudges work. The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission texted students from the second half of their senior year of high school through their first year of college. Largely, the texts focused on specific, actionable steps for students and families to take, such as filling out the FAFSA or applying to their college(s) of choice. As a result of these text nudges, rural students were nearly 8 percentage points more likely than their non-texted peers to matriculate to college. Non-rural students were nearly 7 percentage points more likely.
3. Texting works…when AI doesn’t replace human interaction but enhances it.
If there’s one thing we’re sure about, it’s that students don’t want all of their interactions with you to actually be interactions with a chatbot.
This is the basis of the design of Signal Vine’s Virtual Advisor tool. Chatbots should never strive to fully replace all interactions with your students. They should enhance them.
For example, a chatbot can easily handle those questions you’re asked over and over again, such as What is the FAFSA? or What is the deadline to register for the spring semester? But when a student expresses something more personal, such as, I had a death in my family and need to turn in work late. Who do I need to talk to on campus?, an automated response from a chatbot would not only be off-putting; it would also come across as highly insensitive to this already upset student. Students want to know they have a real person, not just a chatbot, in their corner when times get tough – or even during happier times when a celebration is due. This is why humans and artificial intelligence, or AI, that powers chatbots should work together, not replace each other.
4. Texting works…when you partner with a company staffed by "textperts" who can help you build the best campaigns.
We hate to brag, but our Customer Success Team is second to none. They’re knowledgeable, friendly, and humble to boot. They work hard to ensure that our partners have successful exchanges with students and to make sure our partners launch their campaigns with best practices in tow.
Perhaps the best part about this team is that all of our partners are assigned specific members from the team to work with from the beginning. Partners work with specific people during the implementation process. Then, they work with another specific set of people for the duration of their time using Signal Vine. It’s never a scramble for partners to try and figure out which employee on our About Our Team page to contact whenever an issue arises. They know exactly who to go to to get a quick response.
5. Texting works…because it’s how students want to be reached.
Our Customers page on our website is packed with stories featuring students who tell their advisors they prefer texting as a form of outreach. For example, students at Olympic College respond well to text nudges – but in person. They want an initial nudge via text, which then allows them to control when the in-person interaction happens. When polled, Dallas County Promise students also noted that they would rather be texted than called or emailed.
Times have changed, and higher ed staff must keep up. But for now, texting continues to be the preferred method of outreach for today’s college students.
Want to read more research on texting?
Here is just a sample of some of the research that proves that nudging students toward positive academic outcomes works.
- Parental Influences on Postsecondary Decision-Making: Evidence from a Text Messaging Experiment by Drs. Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page
- Using Strategic Text Messages to Reduce Summer Melt by Bryce Bunting
- Summer Nudging: Can Personalized Text Messages and Peer Mentor Outreach Increase College Going Among Low-Income High School Graduates? by Drs. Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page
- Customized nudging to improve FAFSA completion and income verification by Drs. Lindsay Page, Benjamin Castleman, and Katharine Meyer
- Freshman Year Financial Aid Nudges: An Experiment to Increase FAFSA Renewal and College Persistence by Drs. Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page
- Nudging at a National Scale: Experimental Evidence from a FAFSA Completion Campaign by Kelli Bird, Benjamin Castleman, Joshua Goodman, and Cait Lamberton
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