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Using Cultural Awareness To Guide Strong Student Messaging: Understanding Individual Needs

by Alexis Glasgow | February 23, 2022
Using Cultural Awareness To Guide Strong Student Messaging: Understanding Individual Needs

Part two of the three-part series that analyzes the importance of individualizing student outreach in a way that optimizes student success and uplifts students of color in the process. Read part one on communicating with intent.

Understanding Individual Needs

Every student comes with their own set of needs while going through their educational journey. Whether it’s underserved students, first generation, or adult learners, each group of students has different experiences, challenges, and desires. A broad-brush communication strategy often overlooks the unique circumstances of student populations and leaves them feeling disconnected to their institutions. Students want you to take a personalized approach with them and see them for who they are beyond just filling a seat at your university.

The reality is that blast messaging ignores individual needs and does not account for the underrepresented student populations. As enrollment is at an all-time low due to the impact of COVID-19, it is more important now than ever to understand your student’s and encourage them to complete their degrees through personalized outreach.

It can be difficult to notice that your messaging may actually be negatively impacting your students. For example, students coming from different financial backgrounds are not able to share the same experiences of their peers. Receiving a message about opportunities that are out of financial reach to some students have the risk of forming a negative association with communication efforts from their institution.

Reminding a student to complete their FAFSA on time may seem like an acceptable reminder, but it is also one that can be a nerve-wracking task for other students. What this example outlines is that every student needs individual attention and we cannot continue to bucket students into a general category. Though it may seem like a daunting task to individualize each text message, it can actually be done by asking simple questions. Going above and beyond for your students is as easy as sending a message along the lines of:

The Impact of Sending a Text

The impact of text messaging is proven in the results. Research shows that students who received texts were 12 percentage points more likely to continue on to their second year of college. If our messages have the proven potential to keep students on their educational journeys, it becomes our responsibility to ensure that our content is having a positive impact on the student. Perhaps a student is wanting to complete their degree but feels as though they are disconnected from their university and want to go elsewhere. The next day they get a message about signing up for housing by the deadline. Instead of serving as a reminder, this message would have overwhelmed the student and could have deterred them from continuing their studies.

"Hey Sal, there are two weeks left to sign up for on campus housing for next year. Make sure to complete by March 8th."

Although informative, the message above does not leave room for a conversation to occur or figure out the 'why' behind the reasons for not yet completing the action. Sending messages that have empathy and support can have a much greater impact on the student and open the channel for communication. The student might have concerns that they wish to voice or second thoughts about the institution.

The following is an example of prompting the student to share how their first semester went. This opens the channel for communication and gives opportunity to discover potential roadblocks along the way.

This version not only allows you to better understand your student, but it creates that bond between the student in knowing you truly care about their decisions. It does not take away from the task at hand, but rather prompts the engagement needed in order to complete the goals that need to be met within the conversation. This message also leaves room for the student to voice their concerns and rely on you for support in their decisions.

Taking the time to ensure that your students of color know that you are there for them can be a great source of support for your students. Along with showing them that you can be a support system for them in the present, it opens the window of opportunity for the student to reach out to you in the future about anything that they need assistance with. College is a transitional period for students in a myriad of ways, make sure that each of your students feel seen and heard when reaching out to them!

Implementing proper communication strategies with students begins by messaging with intent, understanding how their individual needs can be supported, and confronting the gaps in your communication strategy. Part three of our series will specify these gaps in communication by talking with recent graduates about things they wish they would have been communicated about while in college. This perspective allows institutions to see that students are wanting this outreach, so long as it is catered towards their specific needs.

Learn More

If you want to read more content like this, see our Using Cultural Awareness to Guide Strong Student Messaging: Communicating with Intent blog and How to Use Reciprocal Communication to Retain Students Ebook.

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