West Virginia students earning higher GPAs, completing first year of college thanks to text messaging service

West Virginia students are earning higher grade point averages, successfully completing first year of college thanks to text messaging service

Rural students benefit from college counseling via “Txt 4 Success” initiative

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Like many college juniors, Chelsea Goins is well-versed in juggling responsibilities. Not only is she a student at Concord University, but she also has three on-campus jobs, participates in cheerleading and teaches dance classes in her community. Her busy schedule makes it easy to forget about college deadlines. Luckily, she receives reminders directly on her cellphone.

The College Foundation of West Virginia’s (CFWV’s) “Txt 4 Success” initiative works to send timely information regarding state financial aid deadlines and general college reminders to high school seniors and college freshmen. In addition, students can text the service at any time to receive assistance with college matters, from registration deadlines to how to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Piloted in select West Virginia “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP)” high schools during the 2013-14 academic year, students from around the state can now opt in to receive text messages. The service, which is coordinated by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) with funding from the Kresge Foundation, sent reminders to more than 22,000 students in 2017.

Students who opt in to receive text messages can select one of the initiative’s eight in-state partner institutions to receive texts specific to their institution. Alongside these messages, CFWV sends general financial aid reminders along with encouragement to persist in high school, college and beyond.

As a recipient of text messages from both CFWV and Concord University, Chelsea expresses the benefits she received from opting in to the service during her senior year of high school.

“As a first-generation college student, I had never heard of the FAFSA or considered a payment plan until I received information about them through text messaging,” she explains. “The text messages helped by providing links for the information I need to be successful along with who to contact at Concord for assistance.”

Dr. Paul L. Hill, Chancellor of the HEPC, notes that students tend to hesitate less to send a text than to call or find someone on campus, which is why a text message campaign is a perfect fit for many students.

“The Txt 4 Success initiative has been wonderful in helping us get relevant information out there to students who are usually glued to their phones,” Hill said. “The outcomes of this study show that retention rates and attempted credit hours increase among students who receive text messages. Furthermore, students know that receiving college help is just a text away, making reaching out for help less intimidating. Implementing a medium students are already using to capture their attention and remind them about important deadlines has proven to be an effective way to open up a door for conversation.”

These reminders are proving to be successful, particularly among rural students. A recent study conducted by Dr. Ben Castleman and Katharine Meyer from the University of Virginia examines outcomes of students who participated in the project from 2013-2015. The study reports that West Virginia students who receive college counseling via text message are 6 to 6.7 percentage points more likely to persist through their first year of college. This number jumps to 7.6 percentage points among students from rural areas in the state.

Meyer notes that the topics covered by the text messages are helpful to rural students who may be on their own for the first time as college freshmen.

“The transition from high school to college is difficult for almost all students as they arrive in a new location without the family and friends they’re accustomed to having nearby for support,” said Meyer. “Not only are students adjusting to a new community, they also need to keep on top of several financial aid and academic tasks without the assistance they may have had in high school from family members and counselors to manage. This study suggests that a few well-timed and focused messages can help students navigate the challenging first-year transition and encourage college persistence.”

The report largely attributes the success of the initiative both to the timing of message delivery and to the breaking down of important information into smaller chunks of guidance. The program sends text messages about deadlines and other college reminders to students who are typically on their phones, the report states, so that the messages capture students’ attention spans more effectively than other communication methods, such as email. The response rate among students is attributed to the ease of simply texting a college counselor to receive assistance.

In the case of Chelsea Goins, a double major of Business Education and Business Administration, the texts also serve as an extra layer of support in her educational journey.

“The text messages not only reminded me of what I needed to be doing and/or have completed, but they also made me feel like I matter to Concord University. The text messages are a free incentive to ensure students are well-prepared for college,” she said.

As a first-generation college student from a rural area, Chelsea notes that relying on the text messaging service helped ease her transition to college.

“As a freshman, it was hard to grasp the fact that college students are held to the same level of responsibility as adults. Any break from stress was appreciated, which is exactly what the text messaging service provided. Knowing I have the texting service to depend on for sending updates and deadlines is still a comforting feeling for me.”

CFWV and the Kresge Foundation want to help more students like Chelsea across the country enroll and succeed in postsecondary programs. To accomplish this, they partnered to create a toolkit to help other college access institutions implement a text messaging program. The Txt 4 Success toolkit, which is available for free online, walks users through the research behind college counseling via text messaging, how to build a text messaging team, how to develop a text messaging schedule and other key steps in implementing a similar program.

The text message campaign for the class of 2018 began in October of 2017 and will conclude in 2019 following students’ freshman year of college. Bluefield State College, Concord University, Fairmont State University, Marshall University, Potomac State College, Shepherd University, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, West Virginia Northern Community College and West Virginia State University are partners in the project.

More information on the Txt 4 Success project can be found online at http://www.cfwvconnect.com/txt-4-success. Any student who is planning to attend college for this first time in the fall of 2018 can sign up to receive the alerts by visiting the state’s free college-planning resource, www.cfwv.com.