Colleges Should Reach Out to Underrepresented Students Through Personal Letters, Text Messages, According to Survey

National
Posted By Terri Williams on April 20, 2016 at 12:06 pm
Colleges Should Reach Out to Underrepresented Students Through Personal Letters, Text Messages, According to Survey

A one-size-fits-all strategy rarely works with consumers. And high school students searching for colleges are no exception. Recent research has revealed that how higher institutions communicate with prospective students is just as important as what they communicate. What’s more? High school students’ preferred communication styles may vary by gender, ethnicity, household income, and other factors.

A recent report by University Research Partners (URP), the research division of Royall & Company, provides a wealth of information regarding the communication habits and preferences of college-bound students. GoodCall excerpted some of the results below:

Best and Worst Sources of Information

When students gather information about a prospective college, these are the five sources they consider most helpful. Sources are shown with the percentage of rising seniors and rising juniors who consider them helpful.

Top 5 Most Helpful Sources % Rising Seniors % Rising Juniors
Email from schools 60.4% 70.0%
Specific schools’ websites 51.6% 52.0%
Personal letters from schools 42.5% 49.8%
Campus visits 49.6% 33.0%
Parents and other family members 31.3% 35.9%

 

On the other hand, the students consider these the least helpful sources of information. Sources are shown with the percentage of rising seniors and juniors who consider them helpful.

Top 5 Least Helpful Sources % Rising Seniors % Rising Juniors
CDs/DVDs/videos from colleges 0.3% 0.4%
Radio or TV advertisements 0.5% 1.0%
Newspaper or magazine advertisements 1.1% 1.2%
Telephone calls to colleges 3.0% 1.4%
Independent college counselors 4.6% 3.5%

 

Personal Letters

Personal letters were more likely to viewed as helpful among students that were female, first-generation, African-American or Hispanic/Latino, or in households with an income below $60,000:

Gender:

Female 47.3%
Male 43.2%

 

First-generation status:

First-generation 51.3%
Not first-generation 44.6%

 

Ethnicity:

African American 52.3%
Hispanic/Latino 50.4%
Caucasian 44.7%
Asian 37.5%

 

Estimated household income:

$60,000 or less 51.5%
$60,001 – $120,000 46.5%
$120,001 or more 37.3%

 

Text Messages

Text messages were more likely to be an acceptable form of communication among students who were male, first-generation, African-American or Hispanic/Latino, or in households with an income below $60,000:

Gender:

Male 59.7%
Female 55.3%

 

First-generation status:

First-generation 67.1%
Not first-generation 54.3%

 

Ethnicity:

Hispanic/Latino 69.3%
African American 64.4%
Asian 57.3%
Caucasian 51.7%

 

Estimated household income:

$60,000 or less 65.0%
$60,001 – $120,000 56.1%
$120,001 or more 52.5%

 

75% of students also want the ability to text schools directly.

So – what types of information are students willing to receive via text message?

  • An application-related deadline
  • A response to a specific question
  • Confirmation of receipt of test scores/application
  • A reminder of an event the student registered for
  • Information about a student’s financial aid award
  • An invitation to the campus
  • Notification of campus events

However, students who don’t want to receive text messages listed the following reasons:

  • Excessive/not necessary/annoying
  • Too personal or too much information
  • Prefer other contact methods
  • Additional charges/can’t receive texts/don’t use their phone
  • Not efficient
  • Not reliable

Background Differences

The differences in the students’ preferences may be related to other factors as well.

For example, some students are more likely than others to explore their college options before their freshmen year of high school:

  • Female students were 9 percentage points more likely than male students to begin their college search for they entered high school
  • African-American students were 9 percentage points more likely than Caucasian students and 3 percentage points more likely than Hispanic/Latino students
  • First-generation students were 3 percentage points more likely than non-first-generation students
  • Students in the South were 9 percentage points more likely than students in the Northeast, 5 percentage points more likely than students in the Midwest, and 4 percentage points more likely than students in the North

However, regarding college campus visits before their junior or senior year:

  • First-generation students were 8 percentage points less likely to have visited a college campus, either formally or informally
  • Compared to Caucasian students, African-American students were 9 percentage points less likely, and Hispanic/Latino students were 3 percentage points less likely to have visited a college campus either formally or informally
  • Southerners were 6% to 7% less likely than students in any other part of the country to have visited a college campus either formally or informally

Why the Personal Touch Matters

Since underrepresented students tend to start the college search process earlier but are less likely to visit a campus before their junior or senior year, GoodCall asked Pam Kiecker Royall, Ph.D., who is also the the head of research at Royall & Company, to comment on the survey’s results.

According to Royall, there are two very simple reasons why underrepresented students may be more receptive to receiving personal letters and text messages: “Students simply do not receive much personal mail – and when it arrives, it gets attention.” And Royall says that these tangible messages can be shared with parents and other people who offer counsel during the college search process.

Text messages offer an additional layer of support. “Many of these students feel they are at a disadvantage in the college search process,” Royall says. And since text messages are valued for their timeliness and personal relevance, Royall says that colleges that use them strategically can provide valuable information regarding deadlines and other pertinent information related to the college search and application process.

She also notes an increase in the number of colleges and universities trying to achieve diversity on campus. “This type of quantitative and qualitative insight from students’ comprehensive on-campus experience can bolster graduates’ success in our increasingly global economy,” she notes.

Woodbury University in Burbank, California is one school that has implemented a more personal approach to student communications. “A personal phone call, handwritten note/letter, [or] even a direct response on social media platforms can help a student feel more at ease,” says Sabrina Taylor, the school’s director of marketing.  She tells GoodCall that personal one-on-one interactions help students to feel that they’re talking to a person instead of a large school.

“We also do personal congratulations tweets and Facebook messages every time someone posts about getting accepted, handwritten thank you notes from our student tour guides to anyone who comes for a campus tour, and our faculty and deans make phone calls to newly accepted students,” says Taylor.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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