Quick poll: how many apps do you have on your phone? (I have 86...I just counted!)
Amid higher education’s increasingly competitive environment, institutions are looking for ways to develop deeper relationships with prospective, current, and former students. One of the best ways to do this is to have an open conversation. You can learn about your students, answer their questions, and hopefully delight them -- all of which adds up to earning trust and establishing a connection to your institution.
“Would a student prefer to talk to a chatbot over a human?” This is a question that comes up when speaking with higher education leaders. For decades, college and university administrators have engaged with students in traditional ways - phone calls, emails, in-person school visits, campus tours, interviews, etc.
Two major changes for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are affecting the 2017-18 school year application season.
- The FAFSA is available earlier, starting on Oct. 1 of the previous year instead of Jan. 1 of the upcoming school year.
- The FAFSA collects income information from an earlier tax year -- prior prior year (PPY).
These changes can help colleges better assist students in the financial aid process and potentially achieve higher matriculation in the fall. “Summer melt,” wherein college-intending students fail to matriculate in the fall, is a double loss, hurting both the students whose college dreams fall by the wayside, and the schools that were counting on them to attend. Often, cost is the culprit.
Considering that 90 percent of text messages are read within 3 minutes and 45 percent elicit a response from the recipient, it seems like texting should play a big part in colleges’ communications and outreach strategies, right?
In a word, yes! But it’s important to understand how texting and privacy laws and consumer protection regulations relate to schools' efforts to properly and effectively text students.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. And there are key differences among various schools: whether they’re nonprofit or for-profit, how and when they’re engaging with students, the intent and nature of the messages they’re sending. But all colleges and universities should be aware of a few laws pertaining to texting prospective and current students and their families.
One of the most important acts to abide by is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The TCPA was passed by Congress in 1991 to stop telemarketers from sending out unwanted messages to millions of people without any way to opt out of these messages. At a high level, the TCPA prohibits telemarketers from calling or texting without prior express consent when using an autodialer or mass calling/texting system. The three main parts of the TCPA are Do-Not-Call Restrictions, Limitations on Prerecorded Calls, and Limitations on Calls and Texts to Mobile Phones using an Autodialer.
The twist for many schools is that tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations are not subject to some provisions of the TCPA. Schools that send out informational and educational information are well within the bounds of allowable territory. Nonprofits in general are not held to as high of a standard as commercial organizations in terms of getting consent before calling or messaging. For nonprofits they must have oral consent or express consent. For example, this could come from the Common Application or an opt-in box on a webform or inquiry card.
And if a student provides a cellphone number, schools are free to assume consent. (We also recommend confirming consent via an initial text message, but there’s more on that below.)