Survey says… texting to college success

The oldest members of Generation Z are headed to college campuses, bringing with them their behaviors as the first generation of digital natives.

It’s no secret that texting is an effective way to connect with college students. Success stories like those of Georgia State University and uAspire drive home the need to reach students on mobile, with communications that are easy to access and action. In fact, 86 percent of uAspire students surveyed reported that text messages prompted them to complete a task they hadn’t yet done, and 84 percent said they found text message reminders useful in helping them get everything done for college.

These results are encouraging for those of us supporting students to college graduation, and the potential is even greater when the texting becomes a dialogue. We found this at Dell Scholars, as we recently began implementing surveys by text message to collect information from our students. In two quick taps, students can easily share valuable information with our advisors.

While the journey to graduation is unique for every student, our retention officers can help them navigate common roadblocks – before they become more serious obstacles towards college success. Midway through the semester, we reached out to all Scholars with a quick survey by text to see how things were going.

Here’s an example of one of those exchanges:

By offering up a bite-sized ask of our students, the survey generated a strong response rate of more than 50 percent. All responses were automatically logged in an Excel grid, making it easy for our advisors to easily identify where an intervention was needed – and ultimately to provide the right support at the right time. Rather than learning about their struggles at the end of the semester, we’re able to support them taking action before it’s too late.

Additionally, whether or not we received a response, the text message reinforced the resources available to Dell Scholars during mid-terms and year-round, through the university or our program’s support. These include tutoring, office hours, the Scholar Resource Network, and more, along with a phone number and email address where our advisors can be reached.

In a matter of hours, our text survey was able to collect useful information on hundreds of students. With a small team of advisors, it would otherwise be impossible for our team to gather these insights at scale. It’s also worth noting that two-way texting also opens the door to future communications. Landing in a student’s SMS inbox keeps Dell Scholars top of mind, a reminder that they can count on us when they’re struggling.

Text Surveys: A Few Tips & Tricks

Ready to launch your first text survey? Before getting started, check out a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

  • Be selective: To keep response rates high, it’s important not to text your students too often. Have a clear goal in mind in terms of the information you’re seeking.
  • Keep it simple: Make your wording short and simple. Frame responses so students can easily select A/B/C/D, 1/2/3, YES or NO, without needing to type a lengthy response.
  • Timing is everything: To gather the most meaningful data, be mindful of survey timing within the semester. For example, when inquiring about students’ work hours, we waited until mid-semester for a realistic picture of its impact on academic success.
  • Test, test, test: Before distributing a survey to all your students – test it out! The text message might look longer than you expected after drafting in a Word document.
  • The bottom line: The Dell Scholars program uses Twilio as our texting service, with a payment model that’s only cents per response. Texting tools may be more affordable than you think.

The more we know, the better we’re able to support students along the journey to college graduation. We would love to hear from you about what’s working in your program: what tips and tricks have you discovered to support students through texting and chatbots? Let us know @DellScholars!