The 74 recently reported a whopping one-third of all college students at four-year institutions don’t earn a degree after six years, and the problem is even worse for low-income students.
Inability to pay tuition and fees, work commitments, childcare responsibilities, absences of a sense of belonging, and lack of interest in classes include some of the most common student completion barriers, but what can we do to address these problems?
In a recent article, Inside Higher Ed listed strategies that can improve student success and increase retention numbers, but this presents a new challenge that asks how to scale these methods to provide each student personalized support.
Using texting and AI to expand methods aimed to improve graduation numbers increases staff reach and bandwidth while putting resources at students’ fingertips. Here are some degree completion strategies that can grow in effectiveness with the help of AI and texting:
1. Prioritize a sense of belonging
Student success is directly correlated to their sense of belonging and their ability to feel at home at their place of study. To establish this, it’s important to:
- Invest in student programs that focus on wellness and mental health. Provide a safe space for students to talk about their problems, triumphs, and goals with other students and staff.
- Build school spirit initiatives. Colleges don’t need a multi-million dollar football program to have strong school spirit! Notify students about athletics games, host fun school-themed events, and launch social media campaigns focused on school pride.
- Inaugurate a home recipe program in student dining halls. A number of schools allow their students to submit recipes from home to dining hall staff in an effort to diversify menus and make students feel heard. This is an easy and yummy way for students to feel like they’re right back in their family’s kitchen!
Because smaller initiatives can get lost in emails and on websites, college staff can remind students about cool opportunities like these through a text messaging system.
2. Empower students with innovative teaching methods
The way professors teach constantly evolves to fit student needs. We no longer write full lessons on chalkboards, and we don’t expect the modern student to be fully engaged in an hour-long lecture with no visuals. Go beyond the standard PowerPoint by:
- Planning field trips. Getting outside of the classroom can be an exciting way for students to experience their textbooks in real life! Even scheduling discussion sections in your campus’s quad can be an inexpensive and efficient way to shake things up.
- Including small quizzes in lesson slide decks. Make participation in lectures and discussions easier for students by asking simple short answer and multiple choice questions throughout the lesson. Adopt software that allows you to gather students’ answers anonymously and display answer data in real time.
- Integrating multimedia content into lectures. Interactive graphics, 360 video, and even GIFs can be a fresh way to appeal to students.
These are just a few easy methods that can help with student engagement in the classroom. Try something new every month, and collect student feedback on your efforts through text message polling. Polls through text make it easy for students to provide comments, and professors can use the poll’s data to constantly improve. Students are also more likely to respond to text polls than a link to a form in an email: West Texas A&M University saw a 50% response rate from a housing text message poll sent to returning students.
3. Take the stress out of transferring
The modern college student is highly likely to transfer to a different school at least once, and it’s college staff’s job to make sure these students aren’t behind from the get-go due to lost credit hours. In addition to having the tools required for success from the start, it’s imperative these students also establish a connection with their new school, professors, and peers. Do this by:
- Planning orientation programs specific to transfer students and their needs.
- Modeling a student-led mentorship program for transfer students to meet other new students and their non-transfer peers.
- Forming relationships with local community colleges and other feeder schools to better understand what incoming student backgrounds and challenges look like.
- Scheduling routine check-in’s with new transfer students to make sure they stay on track academically and feel a sense of support.
Orientation sessions, mentorship programs, and check-in’s can all be enhanced through a student’s ability to sign up or schedule through text messages. AdmitHub’s AI can nudge transfer students to schedule meetings and sign up for programs while also providing them the ability to book those resources through their conversation with an AI chatbot.
4. Minimize financial and academic costs
Work and class-related challenges are among the most common degree completion obstacles students face today. Address this graduation yellow tape through:
- Nudging students through text message campaigns about FAFSA completion to maximize their aid package each year.
- Implementing a marketing campaign using early-graduate and timely-graduate ambassadors. Highlight the benefits of finishing early or finishing on time through social media, emails, and texts.
- Adding more alternatives or availability of required and popular courses at your institution. Establishing more remote attendance possibilities and counting credits from similar courses at other universities include some ways to accomplish this.
- Monitoring at-risk students using intelligent tracking systems. AdmitHub’s AI-powered communication platform allows staff to see real insights and identify at-risk students as well as potential campus-wide blindspots.
- Eliminating course requirements that have high failure and withdrawal rates.
- Building more on-campus work opportunities for students with financial limitations.
Course requirements, scheduling, and financial aid information can seem trivial to students who don’t see the point in grasping this detail. AdmitHub uses conversational AI to meet students where they are through text in a language that they can understand.
5. Focus on student success post-graduation
When students don’t see the work they do in the classroom as beneficial to their future career, it can be hard for them to stay in school and stick to the books. Integrate the job market with classroom learning by:
- Dedicating lessons to the exploration of different career opportunities relevant to their coursework.
- Inviting working professionals to guest lecture about their experiences in the workforce and how their degree helped them achieve their career goals.
- Adopting an online job board exclusive to the institution’s students.
- Offering resume and cover letter workshops, LinkedIn photo sessions, and interview practice opportunities.
- Creating a career services center to help students apply for internships and jobs and find the right field for them. Students may be hesitant (or not know how) to reach out to a counselor for help, but with a friendly college chatbot, they could easily schedule an appointment and stay on track.
- Instilling a career-focus within the college’s alumni network. Connect alumni with students who have similar career goals, allow alumni to share job opportunities with students, and set up networking opportunities for alumni to meet other graduates and students.
Like AdmitHub’s CEO Andrew Magliozzi said at the 2019 AACRAO Technology & Transfer Conference, many students that interact with AdmitHub’s chatbots enjoy talking to the AI because they don’t feel judged for not knowing how to do something or not understanding what something is. Chatbots can be a non-judgemental resource for students to begin exploring careers after finishing school.
6. Make summers count
Summer break and other long stretches of school vacation can be detrimental for students who may be vulnerable to dropping out. Make sure students stay on track between the last and first days of school with:
- Peer mentoring programs that connect at-risk students with high-achieving students and young alumni.
- Coordination with students’ families. A student’s support system can be a huge reason why a student decides to drop out of school. Make sure families instill the importance of returning to school in the fall during the summer months.
- Send proactive nudges via text that gradually get students ready for class in the fall. Start small with congratulating students on a spring semester “job well-done” at the beginning of summer, then send messages about events on campus, resources that can keep them academically sharp, and even a checklist for what to bring in their backpack on the first day of school.
- Notifications about summer internship and class opportunities. Internships offer students the chance to experience the field they study in classrooms and take a break from their day-to-day lectures during the school year. Summer classes can be beneficial for students who are behind in their degree plan and need more credits to graduate on time.
Graduating college should not be rocket science (unless of course you are studying rocket science)! Colleges and universities can use simple methods to improve their students’ success during and after college, and many times, these strategies come at little cost to the institution. Schools have a duty to help their students graduate, even if it means going through extra steps or extending an additional helping hand.
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