The Surprising Barrier to Student Success, and How to Overcome It

Communicate Clearly with Students

October 14, 2019

Adjusting to university life can be overwhelming for many students, especially if you’re the first in your family to attend college. Getting used to new surroundings, worrying about how to pay for school, filling out endless applications, and juggling heavier academic workloads are just a few of the challenges students face. In fact, according to College Atlas, 30 percent of students drop out after their first year of college.

While these challenges are well documented, there’s one barrier to success that many administrators might not be aware of: the terms, methods, and tone they use to communicate with students. From financial aid forms to student handbooks, students are expected to decipher terms like “credit hours,” “FAFSA,” “bursar” and other academic jargon that may seem second nature to staff, but are often new and confusing to prospective students. And when they can’t crack the code, they get frustrated and move on to other things.

One way administrators can reduce this frustration is to find ways to communicate more clearly with their students. Here are some of our best tips on how to do just that.

1. Audit What You Publish 

If you want to find out where your strategy is lacking, take a good look at how you currently communicate with students. This includes everything from website copy and email to physical flyers and orientation events.

Ask students to review these materials and get input on where you can tighten up or clarify language. You can even use tools like Hemingway App or Count Wordsworth to find out how easy it is for someone to read your text. Simply cut and paste your text, and get an instant report that covers measures like Flesch Reading Ease (text complexity) and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (average grade level readability).

Here’s an example: After pasting in a few sentences from a university undergraduate admissions site, you can see that the Flesch Reading Ease score is just above 45. The closer the number is to 100 (4th-grade reading level), the easier it is to read. According to Readable, a score of 70-80 with a grade level of 8 is an ideal target for ensuring that most readers can understand your text.

Wordsmith Count Example to Analyze Readability of your Website
Readability Scores for website text

You can learn more about what all of the different readability scores mean on Wikipedia.

Here are some tips to increase the readability of your messaging:

  • Keep sentences short.
  • Keep most words less than three syllables.
  • Limit the number of long words in each sentence.

2. Assess Your Medium

If you want students to pay attention to your messaging, you need to reach them wherever they are. And for Generation Z — which make up the majority of college students — that means on their mobile phones. Consider these stats:

While texting is quick, short and engaging, the website experience for many college students is anything but. With so much to wade through, students have to click through pages of information to find what they need. And when they do find it, those pages are usually filled with unfamiliar words and academic jargon. 

In addition, less than 20 percent of emails are ever opened by Gen Z students. At AdmitHub, we know the important role that text messaging plays in campus communication. Our AI-powered chatbots have helped colleges across the country better connect with their students. 

West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) is just one example. Struggling with student engagement and freshman retention rates, the university decided to implement their admissions chatbot, named Thunder. The new technology was used to remind students to complete enrollment tasks, administer housing surveys and answer questions covering topics like financial aid and dorm policies. With Thunder’s help, WTAMU reached an average student engagement rate of 27 percent, and increased their fall-to-fall freshman to sophomore retention by 2.5 percent.

Before sending text messages to your own students, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Keep it brief (under 160 characters per message)
  • Break up longer messages into multiple texts
  • Keep messages specific
  • Add links to more information

3. Keep It Conversational

We’ve found that students are most responsive to personas like fellow students, goofy adults and friendly robots. All of these have one important thing in common: They speak in a conversational, friendly tone. 

Keep your messages just as friendly, and give students a chance to ask questions back so you can let them know you’re listening, build trust, and strengthen relationships. Most students feel like they should already know the answers to many of their questions, so they might feel self-conscious about asking a person. Chatbots, on the other hand, don’t judge. They can provide immediate responses, and even engage in friendly banter, speaking in the voice of the persona you created during setup. 

Here’s an example: Let’s say you send a survey asking students if they plan on completing enrollment. If students are unsure, your chatbot can ask additional questions to find out what’s holding them back, and then provide them with information to help get them enrolled depending on their feedback.

Use surveys to understand what students are feeling or needing

Chatbots from AdmitHub are pre-programmed with answers to thousands of the most common questions from students, and thanks to AI technology, they get smarter with each new question asked. Also, responses can be sent any time or the day or night, which means students can read them and take action when it’s most convenient for them.

At Ocean County College (OCC), administrators understand the importance of communicating with students in a relatable way. OCC faced declining enrollment and was looking for ways to help students complete the enrollment process. With the help of AdmitHub, they launched Reggie, an AI-powered chatbot that interacts with students using language they understand. 

Once students had access to Reggie for questions on admissions, financial aid, academics and campus life, student engagement increased from 15 percent with email to 26 percent with texting. In addition, summer enrollment increased by 7.4 percent.

Here are some ways you can keep chatbot communication relatable:

  • Give your chatbot a name and personality 
  • Personalize your conversations 
  • Keep language student friendly
  • Adjust tone as needed

The Case for Clarity

The success of your students rests on knowing where to find answers to their most pressing questions, and having a good grasp of the information they’re given. That’s why, when it comes to communicating with students, there’s little room for interpretation. Ensure that students receive and understand your message by using clear language, choosing the medium they prefer, and speaking to them in a way they’re certain to understand. 

To find out if your student communication needs improvement, schedule a Conversational Strategy Assessment with our team! 

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