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How Onondaga Community College Revolutionized Student Success with Texting

4 min read

Community colleges and their students are faced with unique challenges. 

For students, trying to balance personal life with school and work in addition to not understanding the college landscape can lead to frustration, missing deadlines, falling behind on studies and ultimately leaving school.

For community college professionals, identifying concrete ways to increase student retention is not an easy task due to their student’s own challenges above.

This was the case at Onondaga Community College (OCC), where enrollment had declined 23% from 2012 to 2018. OCC  is a 2-year, public SUNY institution located in Syracuse, NY. 

After exploring pain points, OCC administrators discovered the biggest issue for students’ was the complexity of college processes and that the school needed to make changes to help more students reach graduation.

The OCC staff developed a bold and comprehensive plan that included receiving grant funding, revamping curriculum to make it easier for students to concentrate on their studies, and implementing an approach to coach students through the college process, utilizing texting through Cadence.

In a short time, texting proved to be a powerful engagement tool for the OCC staff, and within one month of using Cadence, they achieved a 29% reply rate and a 2.3% increase in conversion for the 2019 fall semester.

“Students respond to texting. I’m getting students, even weeks later, responding and asking questions. As long as they know they have someone right there to ask a question to, that’s what we’re looking for."

- Jenna Alexander, Director of OCC Advising Center

So, what did OCC’s plan entail?

 

Providing Guidance Through Coaching

Once OCC’s grant funding was secured and feedback from students about the complexity of applying to school was gathered, the  team developed an intense 1-on-1 model to better prepare new students to be successful. 

This model included coaching, a new communication method at OCC where staff guided students through non-cognitive barriers. Coaching is different than advising as it goes beyond course scheduling and financial aid. If a student feels like they’re falling off course, OCC’s coaching model  gives that student incentive and personal support to keep going. 

“When I’m meeting with students, I’m not just focusing on academics. I’m focused on things like their home life and transportation. All of those things that may present themselves where a student will say, ‘I don’t have the money to get to class so therefore, I’m failing.’”

- Jenna Alexander, Director of OCC Advising Center

OCC’s coaches became a part of ‘One Team,’  which consists of 60+ OCC staff members who  provide 1-on-1 assistance and encouragement to students, giving them a better chance to graduate and support to overcome everyday obstacles and friction points. 

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Each One Team member has access to Robert, OCC’s staff maintained texting line though Cadence that sends out important information to students and allows students to text questions. Many have embraced the text line as a campus personality.

The Value of Texting

Texting in Cadence has proven to be a powerful engagement tool for coaching students as the staff needs to constantly stay in touch. By “checking in” with texts, they reach at-risk students at strategic touch points, helping them navigate the college process and stay in school. 

“When students leave for Thanksgiving break, they may not come back. School may be too much, they get overwhelmed by expectations and commitments. The coach – student relationship and support system become critical to their persistence and success.”

- Wendy Tarby, Associate Vice President of Institutional Planning, Assessment and Research 

The combination of texting channels allows OCC staff members to stay connected with students and help them in ways that reach beyond academics. Students have felt comfortable enough with their One Team support members to reach out when they need help.

With the mission of ‘One Team’ texts serving to engage students and create conversations, their 29% response rate and 2.3% increase in conversions within that first semester make for important statistics. 

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“That uptick in conversion over a short period of time was impressive and a strong indicator that this new approach is working.” - Scott Titus, Director of Marketing & New Media

Are you looking to implement texting into your community college’s student engagement strategy?

Discover how Cadence can help at MongooseResearch.com/community-colleges

 

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