CFWV Text-Messaging Outreach Project

About this Project
Goals and Objectives
Frequently Asked Questions
Background and Relevant Research

About this Project

The College Foundation of West Virginia (CFWV) has developed a pilot project that utilizes text-messaging to promote college access and support student success at the postsecondary level. The project provides a series of interventions to students attending the high schools selected for the text messaging pilot.

Working in conjunction with the Kresge Foundation and a researcher from the University of Virginia, Ben Castleman, CFWV staff members have designed a project that utilizes text-messages to provide students with personalized information that they need to complete critical college-preparation tasks and to adjust to campus life. The messages also will connect students with counselors and other personnel who can provide individualized assistance.Four public higher education institutions have agreed to serve as partners in the three-year pilot project and evaluative study.

The proposed project is simple in its design:

  1. CFWV and partner colleges collect students’ mobile phone numbers on college applications, inquiry cards, and state-level scholarship applications to build an opt-in database of student cell numbers.

  2. CFWV sends students personalized text messages providing them with information on preparing for college. These messages allow students the opportunity to text back with questions or request one-on-one assistance.

    For example, "Have you completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) yet? Check out this link for more info. Need one-on-one help? Text back "help" to set up a free appointment with a financial aid counselor."

  3. In spring of their 12th-grade year, CFWV asks the students to text back the name of the institution they plan to attend.

  4. If a student chooses one of the project’s four partner colleges, he or she begins to receive messages connecting them to on-campus resources and reminding them of institution-specific deadlines and services. Students attending one of the partner colleges are able to talk, via text, with staff members at their college regarding financial aid, housing, admissions, etc.

  5. Students who do not choose one of the partner colleges continue receiving more generalized support from CFWV.

  6. Students continue to receive messages through their freshman year of college.

Goals and Objectives

In utilizing the text-messaging medium, this project seeks to achieve six core objectives:

  1. Increase students’ awareness of the financial aid application and acceptance processes.

  2. Smooth the transition from high school to college by connecting students to on-campus resources during their senior year and providing a continuous point of contact through their freshman year of college.

  3. Reduce summer attrition or “summer melt” rates by providing students with increased support in addressing common questions or challenges faced during the summer months following high school graduation.

  4. Expand the capacity of two-year and four-year higher education institutions in West Virginia to provide direct student support services through the implementation of low-cost, low-maintenance text messaging technologies.

  5. Increase students’ utilization of on-campus services to help them succeed during their first and subsequent years of college.

  6. Build on the body of research regarding the effectiveness of utilizing next-generation and emerging technologies to provide student support and counseling.

CFWV staff members are working initially with four colleges and universities (one two-year institution and three four-year institutions) and a few select high schools to pilot the project.

The pilot project will provide text-message interventions and linked services to approximately 3,000 students over the course of three years — 1,000 each in the high school graduating classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who can participate in this project?
For at least the first year, only those students who are attending a high school that is part of the text messaging pilot will receive text messages.

But won’t other students (other than those listed as eligible) see the opt-in field on their college applications and other college-planning materials?
Yes, the opt-in field will visible on college application and planning forms that are used statewide. Other students can choose to provide their information so that they can receive messages if the program is expanded beyond the pilot group.

Which high schools are part of the text messaging pilot?
Meadow Bridge High School
Midland Trail High School
Mingo Central High School
Montcalm High School
Mount View High School
Nicholas County High School
Oak Hill High School
Philip Barbour High School
Pikeview High School
Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School
Preston High School
Princeton Senior High School
Richwood High School
River View High School
Roane County High School
Scott High School
Sherman High School
Summers County High School
Tug Valley High School
Valley High School
Van High School
Wahama High School
Webster County High School
Westside High School
Wirt County High School
Wyoming East High School

Which colleges are partners in the texting program?
Bluefield State College
Concord University
Fairmont State University
Marshall University
Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College
West Virginia State University

Do you plan to expand the program?
Yes. This project is a pilot program, meaning that -- at first -- we are only offering the service to a limited number of participants in order to test its effectiveness and work out any glitches. However, assuming the project is successful, CFWV plans to expand services to additional students in the coming years.

Is there a cost for students to participate?
Standard text-messaging rates apply. Students can opt-out of the program at any time.

Will eligible students automatically receive text messages?
No. Students have the opportunity to choose to receive these messages by completing the opt-in form on some college applications, on the PROMISE Scholarship application, and during the account sign-up process on CFWV.com.

What/Who is CFWV?
The College Foundation of West Virginia (CFWV) is a statewide initiative led by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (a state agency) working in collaboration with the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education, the West Virginia Department of Education, and the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts.

Background and Relevant Research

Studies indicate that low-income students graduate from college at only about half the rate of their higher income peers — even when they are equally qualified academically. Many scholars now assert that low-income students are the most underrepresented demographic group in higher education and that closing this achievement gap is one of the surest ways to address America’s myriad social and economic woes.

Sadly, basic college preparation and enrollment processes often serve as major hurdles for first-generation and low-income students. As a result, the path from application to enrollment is often a treacherous one. Many students fail to complete critical financial aid and enrollment forms in the spring of their senior year. Many more lose their ways during the three months of isolation that often characterizes the summer between their high school and college careers. And unfortunately, even those who make it to a college campus often drop off in their first year of undergraduate study — returning home in debt and demoralized.

CFWV seeks to address these gaps by developing low-cost support structures to guide students from the fall of their 12th grade year through their first year of postsecondary study. Previous studies suggest that increasing students’ access to information not only aids them in understanding and valuing the college preparation process, but also evens the playing field for low-income students who do not often have access to college information through their personal connections or resources.

Use of the text message medium to deliver straightforward and personalized college-planning information offers a low-cost, low-maintenance method to increase students’ utilization of valuable resources and services already being provided through high schools and institutions of higher education. If funded, the program will expand on previous studies conducted by Dr. Castleman and colleagues at Harvard University, in which the researchers collaborated with school districts to randomly select high school graduates and their parents to receive text reminders of important tasks to complete in order to matriculate in college. The text messages were customized to the institutions students planned to attend and provided timely reminders of important tasks to complete, like registering for freshman orientation.

The text intervention impacts were largest among students who qualified for free- or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). These students were more than four percentage points more likely to enroll in college than FRPL students who were not selected to receive the messages. Among students who lived in communities with low levels of educational attainment and few college-going supports for students, students who were randomly assigned to receive the text messages were over seven percentage points more likely to enroll in college than students who did not receive the messages.

Providing personalized information to students via text message is a promising approach to both inform students of required college-preparation tasks and connect them with professional staff when they need additional assistance. Text messaging is one of the primary means by which college-aged youth communicate. Research in other social services fields documents positive impacts resulting from text-messaging campaigns in achieving desired outcomes, such as whether individuals get a flu vaccination or make financial contributions to a savings account.

Research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that “nearly half of all 18-29 year olds (45%) who use the internet on their cell phones do most of their online browsing on their mobile device.” The same report also found that “those with an annual household income of less than $50,000 per year and those who have not graduated college are more likely than those with higher levels of income and education to use their phones for most of their online browsing.” Thus, connecting with students via their cell phone is a promising way to extend services to high-need students who may not be utilizing other online resources.

Furthermore, text messaging is an efficient and cost-effective outreach strategy. Messages can be automated but still personalized, allowing the Commission and its partner institutions to serve a large volume of students.

Sources:
Castleman, Arnold & Wartman. (2012)
Kahlenberg. (2010).
Carnevale. (2009).
Kahlenberg.
Thayer. (2000). Vargas (2004).
Arnold et al. (2009); Castleman, Arnold & Wartman (2012); Castleman & Page (forthcoming); Castleman, Page & Schooley. (2012)
West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. (2010)
National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 2008; West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (2012)
Oreopoulus and Dunn. (2012).
National Center for Education Statistics. (2001).
Castleman & Page (2013)
Smith. (2011).
Karlan et al. (2010); Krishna, Boren & Balas. (2009)
Smith. (2012)