INITIATIVE UPDATE: The Texting Project
Submitted by Megan Healy, Academic Services & Research
Every day technology is developed that allows us to interact with friends or connect to the world through a new social media platform. From Snapchat to Twitter, students prefer instant communication with a quick photo or tweet of 140 characters or less. With an average age of 26 at Virginia’s Community Colleges, our students want multiple ways to communicate with advisors, faculty and their peers. However, the VCCS still communicates using emails and Blackboard, versus the texting and social media apps that students prefer.
In search of a more innovative student communication approach, Virginia’s Community Colleges have partnered with Dr. Ben Castleman at the University of Virginia, as well as the City University of New York, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and several other colleges and systems around the country, to launch the Nudges to the Finish Line Project (N2FL) – a federally funded effort to examine different strategies to communicate with students. Dr. Castleman, nationally known for being the Founder and Director of the Nudge Solutions Lab, recently served as senior advisor to Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher Initiative.” His work has received extensive media coverage in the New York Times, NPR, Time Magazine and the Washington Post.
With VCCS’s Compete 2021 goal of tripling the number of credentials awarded, we need new innovative communication techniques to support student completion. Thomas Nelson and Piedmont Virginia were selected in summer 2016 to take part in Phase One of the N2FL texting campaign. Students who have accumulated at least 30 credit hours receive personalized text messages containing information and guidance (“nudges”) about concrete steps they can take toward earning their degrees. These students also have access to a “live” adviser who provides them with customized support. These students are tracked to determine if they enroll the following semester and are hopefully on a pathway to graduate.
To scale this project, six colleges will be selected for Phase Two, which starts in January 2018. Phase Two will use texting to provide students with academic support, as well as guidance around financial aid. Applications from interested colleges are being reviewed now, and the colleges will be selected by the end of February 2017.
Preliminary results from Phase One will be released this summer. The results from this project are expected to help more than half a million students nationwide.
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