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With so many of our institutions committing to the national College Completion Challenge, there has been intense focus on implementing and enhancing engagement and retention initiatives, such as advisement plans, learning communities, at-risk intervention strategies and first-year experiences.
There are many examples of how these promising practices have had a positive impact on completion and student success. While college marketing and public relations divisions often are key partners in developing important external communications such as recruitment campaigns, press releases and website information, when it comes to internal communications with students, what role can these communications professionals play to support the completion initiative? Here are a few suggestions:
This article is part of a bimonthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.
Align the college brand with student success. Brand positioning statements guide an institution’s written and visual messages to reflect the benefits of attending that college. While brands are designed to showcase the unique attributes of an institution, the end result is about helping the student succeed. Integrating this success and completion language into brand management strategies is a natural fit, and it ensures that this important message cuts across all communications channels.
Develop student-focused communications and processes. Review the language used in such things as your college’s registration and financial aid processes, course schedules, academic calendar, college catalog, payment information, orientation and mid-term communications. Chances are that these key student engagement and retention elements have been developed by looking through an institutional lens rather than by focusing on student-friendly language and format.
At Delaware Technical Community College, the marketing and public relations division is an integral part of making sure these very basic, but often well-established barriers to completion, are removed. One example is a communications strategy related to financial aid. When the federal government recently revised its satisfactory academic progress policies, Delaware Tech’s student services and legal affairs divisions deciphered the complicated technical language and reached out to marketing to implement a student communications plan, complete with easy-to-understand collateral, online support and an annual calendar of key financial aid messages. This plan ensures that students understand how to maintain financial aid eligibility and continue to receive the necessary funding to help them graduate.
Similar initiatives are in place at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts, which is in its fourth year of a federal Title III grant to better engage first-year students. As part of this initiative, the communications division led the redesign of the student handbook to make it a more engaging tool with checklists, tips and other information in a non-policy format. The communications staff added an academic planner to the handbook with a “To Do” header for each month that highlights academic and student life information, such as start dates for advising and registration in November, and summer course availability on the Web in March.
Provide opportunities for student feedback. Conduct focus groups and learn what impedes student completion. In New Jersey, Atlantic Cape Community College maintains such ongoing conversations through the use of social media. Facebook and Twitter feeds are monitored around the clock and provide valuable information to the college about unclear policies and procedures.
Not only does the college answer student inquiries promptly and use the information to improve processes, but it leverages social media to seek feedback on student activities, club projects and athletic events that will keep students engaged—another influencer of success.
Responding to the Completion Challenge is a task that requires the involvement of every college division in order to be successful. Enhanced engagement and retention initiatives are essential to meet completion goals, however, the effectiveness of these strategies requires that they are developed, implemented and communicated through a student-focused lens. Successful communication results in successful students.
Sciple is vice president for institutional effectiveness and college relations at Delaware Technical Community College and past president of the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations.
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