There are over two hundred liberal arts colleges in the U.S. These institutions primarily promote small classes, low faculty to student ratios, and a high level of personal engagement between students and college staff.
All liberal arts colleges pride themselves on the “personal touch” in the admission and enrollment processes. Admission officers typically manage geographic territories and develop close relationships with the prospective students they meet at high school info sessions, college fairs, joint college travel programs, and campus visits. Many also interview students and serve as the primary contact for them as they go through the application process.
So how does a small liberal arts college use a text message automation to be always instantaneously available for students of the on-demand generation?
Success Leads to Different Kinds of Challenges
Consider the case of Allegheny College, one of the Colleges that Change Lives. As a CTCL institution, Allegheny is committed to “building the knowledge, character and values of young people by introducing them to a personalized and transformative collegiate experience.”
In our conversations with Cornell LeSane, Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions, and Jason Andracki, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions, we learned that while Allegheny has been fortunate in recent years with record numbers of inquiries and applications, their staff size has remained static.
“It’s been a challenge to provide the type of personal outreach that a student who chooses Allegheny expects,” said Jason. “It’s hard to juggle all of these prospective students with limited staff time.”
While Allegheny remained intent on providing personalized support to their prospective students, they have faced several challenges in meeting this goal:
- Traditional methods of outreach - i.e. email, phone, and snail mail - had diminishing returns on staff time and investment.
- Their staff was feeling the crunch of putting in the additional hours trying to connect with students, which ironically left them less time for one-on-one student relationships.
- In alignment with their mission, they were constantly seeking ways to personally engage students with the goal of increasing their reach and improving the quality and diversity of each incoming class.
Meeting Students Where They Are
As Cornell and Jason thought of ways to meet these challenges, they looked into one-to-one text messaging. They understood that texting was the best way to capture students’ attention, and according to Jason, “we didn’t want to be left behind.”
Recent studies have shown that 98% of text messages are read within 15 minutes while only about 20% of emails are opened. Jason even mentioned his own personal experience on the matter:
"I have a lot of unread emails in my inbox, but I don’t really have unread text messages."
~Jason Andracki, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions, Allegheny College
This isn’t to say that Cornell and Jason didn’t have any concerns about texting, however. For one, they were hesitant to text message students during the recruitment process, wanting to avoid pestering them if they weren’t truly interested in Allegheny. They were also cautious about messaging costs, but they came to realize that most students now have unlimited texting plans.
Their largest concern, though, was saddling their already overworked staff with the responsibility of responding to incoming student messages. With their rising number of inquiries and applicants, they wanted a way to meet students where they are, maintain the personal touch crucial to their mission, and prevent burdening their staff with more work.
Chomping at the Bit
As Cornell and Jason evaluated text messaging options, they knew they needed a solution that would not only be responsive to students and capture their attention, but also would allow the technology to work for them, instead of the other way around. “It’s not that we don’t want to work hard,” said Jason, “but we eventually do sleep at times and we have time outside of the office where we’re not tied to our computer and our phones.”
They decided to utilize AdmitHub’s automation technology to give them the best of both worlds, and Chompers became a reality. Similar to Georgia State University’s “Pounce,” we developed a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence for Allegheny College with the persona of their beloved alligator mascot.
As Chompers engages students over text message, it does everything from nudging students to complete their applications to reminding them to register for on-campus events. Even better, it answers their every question within seconds, 24/7.
Cornell and Jason decided to use Chompers throughout the recruitment and enrollment process. By giving students the power to pause the conversation, or even stop it altogether, the Allegheny admission staff is able to better evaluate student interest across their inquiry pool, while alleviating their concerns about annoying students who might not be interested.
“To have Chompers there to answer questions from students was really reassuring. It was going to allow us to target outreach to students, and it was better than picking up the phone and cold calling or sending out an email blast to a thousand students and hoping for 30% of them to read it.”
~Jason Andracki, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Allegheny College
In only the first few months of Chompers text messaging with students, Cornell and Jason saw some valuable results in several key areas for their recruitment efforts:
- 72 housing form submissions within 72 hours of a Chompers' nudge:
“That's a real turnaround for those forms!" said Jason.
- Thirty new signups to their Class of 2021 Facebook page within the first hour of Chompers’ message campaign, and 268 signups (out of 414 students...more than HALF of the entire group) since Chompers started messaging. Jason commented, “[The page] wasn’t something that we were hiding from them, but it was a new way of communicating with them. It was a concrete reminder that they’re not reading everything in the acceptance letter even though we pore over it. They’re not reading every single email that we send, and it’s great to see immediate results like that.”
- For a recent on-campus program, after Chompers messaged back-and-forth with attendees, Allegheny saw more than double the registrations than for the previous two events combined.
- For on-campus programs, Allegheny is receiving more student evaluations via Chompers than ever previously captured. “We like to think what we do is really great,” said Jason, “but we need to hear that from our guests to refine and improve our programs, and we’ve definitely gotten a much better response in our post-visit survey with Chompers, particularly from students. In the past, it’s been the parents that do those evaluations, and while we want to keep them happy, we also really want to hear from students.”
The Staff Digs Chompers
Aside from the increased metrics and engagement on the student end, it’s worth noting that the admissions team at Allegheny has already formed a strong positive relationship with the technology. Jason noted, “They’ve been very excited about Chompers. For one, it’s sharing some of the work.”
“It’s almost like a virtual staff member, so we’re always happy to have extra help.”
~Jason Andracki, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Allegheny College
The admissions team is young and mobile-friendly, and they’ve done some texting with students on their personal cell phones. He added, “Having a way of reaching students via text without them having to do it on their own personal device has been great, and has been a relief for them.”
As the Allegheny team continues to work side-by-side with Chompers, they appreciate that the best way to maximize the technology’s capabilities and enhance the personalization of communication with students is to be active participants in the training of Chompers’ knowledge-base. Jason humorously (but spot on!) likened Chompers to “a young alligator” and said, “We want to help to feed Chompers’ knowledge, help it grow, learn more about Allegheny. It’s also given us an insight into different ways that students respond and ask questions.”
Up Next for Chompers
With Chompers chatting away with thousands of students interested in Allegheny College, we’re looking forward to expanding its role this season to assist admitted students with the enrollment process, and in the future, to help currently enrolled students build stronger connections to their campus community.