Is Texting Part of a New Normal in Higher Ed?

Amy Jenkins
January 15, 2023

A New Normal?

While for many professionals texting seems only like a way to casually connect with others, used for things like making dinner plans, for college students it is where they spend much of their time — and much more of their time than they spend on email. Texting is one of the latest ways that higher education institutions are boosting engagement with students. Texting allows staff to keep students updated on the latest announcements, as it's convenient, fast, and, for most smartphone users, totally free. With a single click of the ‘send’ button, administrative and enrollment staff can easily reach thousands (or tens of thousands) of students.

For such a simple idea, it’s proven a grand slam. Keep reading for a few of the most basic applications of texting on campus, as well as a few reasons texting might not be the end-all solution for universities looking to boost enrollment and engagement.

A Solution for Updating the Masses

Let’s dive into one use case for texting. Bowling Green State University (BGSU) recently implemented a text messaging system to keep students informed of important updates and announcements.

The idea is to reach students who can’t be bothered to log on to the university website or even check their university email accounts. (BGSU also reported that students didn’t answer phone calls or listen to voicemails.) In these cases, texting might alert students to something like inclement weather, such as heavy snowfall, or a major delay to an upcoming event, like a football game or an academic debate. Texting works for BGSU because it meets students where they are…on their phones.

A Way to Foster Student Success

Along with event-related updates, staff at BGSU use text messages to remind students of important dates and deadlines. These messages may not feel as exciting as a football update, but they are often more important and include critical information, such as FAFSA and other financial aid deadlines, or even dorm move-in dates. In fact, financial deadlines and orientation schedules are some of the most important dates for students.

The emphasis is on student success and boosting engagement with students. BGSU doesn’t just use texting to communicate with students and streamline their higher education. They also tailor messages according to the student’s individual interests, allowing them to receive only the most relevant messages.

It’s that personal touch that has made texting a robust solution—and one that’s diversifying quickly.

A Way to Let Students Learn Their Own Way

Gone are the days when professors barked at students to put their phones away. Many higher education classrooms today allow students to use their phones… but here, the emphasis isn’t on communication or empowering students. Instead, it’s about letting them engage with their education how they choose to.

Studies, such as those from Student Pulse and Survata, have shown that students prefer to use their own devices for in-class activities. As long as the use of cell phones is done responsibly and respectfully, they’re regarded as an excellent tool to keep students engaged and motivated.

But what does this actually look like? Students report using their phones to take photos of lecture notes and diagrams, Google solutions to in-class topics, access digital textbooks, and peruse social media or text with friends.

While higher education institutions certainly don’t want to encourage the latter during class time, the other applications of smartphones in the lecture hall are emerging as ‘new normals’ in college.

A Way to Meet Students Halfway

The average college student likely prefers to connect with their university via text message. Overall, this solution allows the administration to meet students halfway in terms of a preferred method of contact. However, it’s also becoming a great solution for enrollment staff who want to connect with non-traditional students.

Many special-case students like veterans, for example, aren’t likely to be swayed by a few general messages. Instead, one study found that they responded at a higher rate and with greater depth when addressed by recruiters on a personal level. Along with financial aid considerations, engaging via text was one of the most influential elements influencing enrollment amongst veteran students. So, what’s the takeaway here?

Texting that is used for college enrollment (and recruitment) must be highly tailored—especially for non-traditional students. And, as highlighted by BGSU’s targeted approach to texting, this is a good standard to maintain for active students, as well.

Will Texting Last in the Higher Ed Landscape?

Texting is a robust solution for many colleges and universities because it facilitates mass communication, lets them target student success and specialized enrollment outcomes, and even helps students feel a bit more at home in the classroom and on campus. But will it last?

As outlined by the example of enrollment amongst veterans above, texting should only be leveraged as a way to boost student success and enrollment outcomes in a highly personalized way. A general text isn’t going to sway students who are shopping around for colleges or considering transferring. And if you overuse texting - students will ignore that too. In other words, the key takeaway here is that schools should engage with students on a personal level. Texting is just one of the latest vehicles for that engagement.

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