Surging coronavirus cases have hundreds of colleges and universities reconsidering their plans to implement “hybrid” models of instruction and fully in-person classes this fall, Inside Higher Ed reported. School staff find themselves scrambling to communicate last-minute policy changes to students, while other institutions at the forefront of plans for entirely remote instruction are still struggling to deliver important updates and reminders to their learners.

“Now, as we prepare for a second week of classes, many questions remain unanswered,” wrote the editorial board of The Daily Tar Heel, UNC Chapel Hill’s student newspaper. “What factors will trigger the so-called off-ramps, and what will they look like? How many positive cases will it take for the University to realize the danger they’ve put us in,” staff writers inquired just hours before the university abandoned in-person instruction, citing 177 confirmed coronavirus cases on campus.

The NC flagship university and an increasing number of institutions across the country continue to make the right calls, effectively answering students’ growing concerns with action, but how can they communicate these changes immediately to every single student? And what if circumstances change again? Staff need an effective way to communicate to confirm everyone’s on the same page— it’s a matter of health and safety.

Schools must text their students this semester to ensure they’re getting correct information, fast. 98% of text messages are read within the first 15 minutes of being sent, making it the perfect channel to convey critical messaging to students as the pandemic persists. Here are 5 ways colleges can leverage texting in their fall communication strategy to help students succeed, stay healthy, and remain informed:

1. Help Students Complete Critical Tasks

It’s easy for students to forget to do tasks necessary for enrolling and staying in school, especially with added coronavirus and social pressures. Areas like FAFSA completion, paying outstanding bills, and required meetings with advisers include just a few of the barriers that keep students from succeeding during any given year.

Example of FAFSA text message campaign sent to new students

In April, Georgia State University staff used AdmitHub’s texting platform to deliver payment reminders right to students’ phones. 54% of students that received those messages did what GSU staff “needed them to do” within 12 hours of the send, the New York Times reported, compared to the campus email campaigns that typically get less than a 20% open rate.

Targeting students with personalized task reminders through text is a method tested through the current crisis. Texting effectively gains remote students’ attention and helps them accomplish the “little things” that make up the greater student success picture.

2. Ensure Student Well-Being

The Boston Globe reported the pandemic’s toll on student mental health involves an additional cause for concern for colleges and universities. 80% of students revealed Covid-19 negatively impacted their mental health, and one in five respondents indicated their mental health significantly worsened.

Common App and College Advising Corps recognized the increasing need to check-in on students and make sure they’re “doing okay” in addition to helping them with important enrollment steps this summer. Through a partnership with AdmitHub, Common App and CAC texted over 173,000 students interactive surveys to gauge student well-being and get real-time data to inform their communication strategy.

Well-being check-in survey sent to students served by AdmitHub’s partnership with Common App and College Advising Corps

With this particular survey, Common App and CAC were able to learn that 75% of respondents felt nervous, frustrated, “meh,” or sad about the upcoming school year, enabling support staff to step in and provide more personalized outreach to the students that needed it. The data also informed the tone of future messaging— if a student indicated feeling sad, the following messages would take on a more sympathetic tone and hold off on the action-oriented enrollment reminders that other “excited” students might receive.

3. Drive Virtual Event Attendance

It’s already hard enough to drive attendance to in-person events. Virtual functions are a great way to meet with students and get around the social-distancing barrier, but Zoom fatigue and the idea that online events are less engaging still continues.

At Rutgers University – Newark, Assistant Director of Transfer Admissions Vincent Tepedino texted students reminders to join online admissions events for those that needed the extra help to successfully enroll.

By texting his students reminders to come to the event, Tepedino’s team saw event attendance increase, and realizing the power of texting, the Rutgers University – Newark team now messages students to point them in the direction of additional resources and drive follower numbers on their social media channels.

4. Send School Policy Updates & Alerts

Nothing stays the same these days. Many colleges have announced plans to welcome students back to campus without restrictions, which have turned into hybrid model updates, which changed again to remaining remote for the duration of the fall semester. If you’re a student with a million and one responsibilities, it’s hard to keep track of it all!

Example of Georgia State University mask requirement text message alert

Texting students notifications about changes like these guarantees the best possible chance for students to see and understand adjustments to policies. And if students have questions about new announcements and “cluster” alerts, a texting platform that uses AI can handle the bulk of those questions, saving you time and giving you the ability to focus on supporting those students that need more in-depth assistance.

5. Leverage Data to Implement Change

Through texting students using AdmitHub’s platform, staff can study engagement metrics, response rates, and qualitative insights at the micro-level that can help you make informed campus-wide decisions. Strategically target the students that need a nudge to register for a required course, poll students about what they’d like to receive more information about from the university while away from campus, understand what messaging resonates best with a remote student population, and see exactly how many students you can expect back this spring: It’s all possible with AdmitHub’s research-backed platform.

Test out supporting your remote campus through text with AdmitHub: Request a demo with our student communication experts or learn more first with a curated Student Communication Assessment.