How 1:1 Communication Methods Improve Student Mental Health, Retention
Mid-semester check-in campaigns and AI chatbots are just a few examples of how colleges have enhanced communications with students, improving both student well-being and retention.
Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.
Nationwide, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022. This amounts to more than one million fewer students enrolled in college now than before the pandemic. And while the pandemic exacerbated this problem with new policies like remote and hybrid learning, the declines in enrollment have continued even after the return to in-person classes. In other words, this is a much bigger issue stemming from a lack of effective communication.
The pandemic highlighted the irreplaceable role that reliable communication and personal relationships play in fostering a supportive, effective, and successful educational environment. In fact, the path to effective student communication involves more than the means of conversation — it requires a profound commitment to inclusivity, understanding, and support. Getting to know your students is paramount to ensuring they have a positive, fulfilling college experience.
While technology continues to play an integral part in the way higher education institutions interact with students and provide support, a spotlight remains on the need for better communication systems that touch all facets of the higher education experience, from enrollment and financial aid to overall academic success, student well-being, and ultimately retention.
So how can you drive more effective conversations? Let’s dive into the tools that allow institutions to support students through quick, simple, and accessible communication, provide operational solutions, and personalize to best meet student needs.
Supporting Students Through Quick, Simple, and Accessible Communication
The beginning of the semester is a busy time for students as they check into dorms, receive their class schedule, and generally get acquainted with their new environment. Missing out on or not knowing where to find crucial information can affect not only student academic success, but also the overall student experience, sense of belonging, and well-being on campus. Instead of one-way, static conversations, telling students what to do and sending mass emails, higher education institutions should seek meaningful conversations.
Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) in New Jersey sought to create that relationship via a mid-semester check-in campaign. A quick text was sent to students asking them to reply with an emoji based on how they were feeling. Faculty and staff could see if students were feeling happy, stressed, sad, or excited, amongst many other emoji options. This not only offered insight into student sentiment, but created opportunities to connect students with resources for mental health, academic support, or campus involvement.
While providing personalized communication and access to resources is important and beneficial as a standard operating procedure throughout the year, it is even more critical after traumatic events, like natural disasters or school shootings. Institutions must have the tools in place to proactively support students in real time and provide connections to on-campus resources in case of crisis or emergency. Schools and communities are increasingly focused on prevention and preparedness measures, and it is essential that these include access to reliable communication and available mental health services no matter the situation.
A key ingredient to improving communication and building stronger relationships with students is to go beyond providing immediate answers to students’ inquiries. As institutions continue to adapt and innovate, the journey towards more meaningful and accessible communication promises to enrich the educational experience for students, ultimately contributing to their holistic growth and success.
Scaling the Support Provided to Today’s Students
From applying to college to walking across the stage at graduation, the interactions a student has with the student services offices can be some of the most exciting (admission and graduation) and frustrating (financial aid, payments, and registration) experiences at an institution. Students expect personalized, timely, and simple communications and processes.
Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots offer a solution to these institutional challenges by ensuring accurate communication and customer service in areas like financial aid, admissions, and IT at any hour of the day or night. We all know college students live, work, and play on a more open schedule — and sometimes they need things at 2 a.m. But if the financial aid or other student services offices aren’t online, students risk missing out on crucial information impacting their academic success and overall well-being.
Here’s where the chatbot comes in. Temple University’s financial office saw a 50% decrease in call volume after they incorporated an AI-generated chatbot. Before a student is routed to an actual office representative, the university’s chatbot can quickly hunt down a broad spectrum of up-to-date, accurate information – often eliminating the need for a phone call, which would only be available during business hours. Students reported significantly lower perceived difficulty when using a chatbot to find answers to their questions.
Personalizing the Student Experience
Millennials and Gen Z prefer to communicate digitally and are more hesitant to pick up the phone – even though sometimes they really should. A student with a health condition, for example, unable and uncomfortable with talking on the phone or visiting in person, can utilize chat via SMS and live chat features, where their needs could be met. These conversations ensure that students can access resources and information while comfortably communicating in a way that works for them and feel instantaneous support.
Mental health looks different for every student on a college campus, so accessibility and comfort must be prioritized. A campaign like RCBC’s mid-semester emoji check-in shows students that their college cares for them and provides them with resources to help them succeed. Through campaigns like this, staff are better able to understand what their students are experiencing, how to support them, and the best means to do so.
These 1:1 communication solutions provide an invaluable opportunity for institutions to fine-tune their support systems. Analyzing student responses not only aids in understanding their challenges and needs but also helps institutions allocate resources effectively. This data-driven approach enables colleges to offer enhanced support where it is most required, thus creating an environment that actively promotes student success.
Driving Maximum Impact
Incorporating personalized communication strategies requires effort and effective use of technology, but the benefits in terms of student engagement, success, and overall satisfaction make it a worthwhile endeavor in higher education. It’s all about creating a meaningful, lasting relationship by getting to know your students and their needs and making resources accessible.
Trying to decide when, where, and how to implement new technologies can be downright overwhelming for institutions, so don’t be afraid to start small with a chatbot in the financial services department or an SMS text campaign with a specific group of students (like RAs). Additionally, collaborating with experts and industry partners can help in providing best practice recommendations and ease the process of implementing new solutions. AI chatbots and 1:1 SMS interactions offer optimal engagement, catering to students’ preferences and needs. Best of all: These scalable solutions boost retention, augment academic success, and enhance student well-being.
Beth Griesbauer is VP of Sales at Ivy.ai.
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