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Texts keep high school seniors on college track

Text messages are one of the most effective ways to keep high school students on track once they’ve begun the college application and enrollment process.

About 1 in 5 high school seniors who enroll in college never show up, and that rate is closer to 40 percent for students of color. To reverse this trend, a range of companies, state agencies and nonprofits now send automated messages before and after college acceptance—a process known as “nudging.”

The texts remind students of important deadlines—such as when to register for the SAT, apply for financial aid and sign-up for campus housing. What makes these messages even more effective is that students can respond with questions and get answers from real life advisors.

“Unlike an email, a text captures a student’s attention immediately,” says Jessica Kennedy, who oversaw the texting program at West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission until she left the agency in September. “It’s on the device they’re holding—it pings and it flashes and there’s an opportunity to instantly respond.”

West Virginia begins texting about 10,000 seniors each September to “keep up a drumbeat of reminders,” says Kennedy.

Throughout the school year, seniors can have mobile conversations with commission staff or counselors at the college in which they’ve enrolled. The texts continue through the student’s first year in college, with messages about campus activities and returning for spring semester.

A commission study showed that in 2014 the program’s participants completed more college credit hours and had higher GPAs than did students who didn’t receive texts, Kennedy says.

In Minnesota, the state’s Office of Higher Education partners with about 400 high schools to send students text reminders about the enrollment process.

Nationally, the Up Next texting campaign—part of the nonprofit Better Make Room college-access initiative—assists students and parents with college searches, financial aid and voter registration. The national nonprofit Jobs for the Future also launched a college texting program geared toward STEM students.

“Meeting students where they are,” says Don Yu, director of Better Make Room, “speaking their language and delivering bite-size information at critical junctures dramatically simplifies the college-going process for low-income, minority and first-generation college students.”


Matt Zalaznick is senior associate editor.