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College students sit around a table, smiling and chatting

Reaching Community College Students

4 min read

It’s no secret: Community colleges have borne the brunt of enrollment fallouts in the higher ed industry, with a 6% decrease in 2021. 

So, how can you reach potential students and keep current students enrolled engaged? Understanding whom you are talking to plays a significant role.

The student base of a two-year community college is often mixed, including recent high school graduates, adults looking to switch careers, and retirees seeking new skills. 

The same strategies you use to reach a young student who is new to the college experience and excited to seek out campus life activities may be less effective when communicating with a professional mother of two focused on obtaining a degree to advance her career. 

The Non-Traditional Student

The majority of college students are 18 years old, but according to a new report by Guild, 1 in 3 undergraduate students is 25 or older.  Three-quarters of these students are also working, either part-time or full-time. 

adult community college student receiving text from school

Adult learners often have responsibilities outside of work and school, including caretaking for children or other family members. They value flexibility more than any other demographic.

Training your advising staff and others to understand the stressors and challenges nontraditional students face is key to ensuring your communications resonate with them. 

First-Generation Students

According to the PNPI Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI), about one-third of all community college students are first-generation students. This particular segment faces its own unique set of challenges.

First-generation students may not be as prepared for the college search or enrollment process. They often don’t have a parent or guardian to turn to for advice on the process of applying to school, registering for classes, or tackling the many steps needed to obtain financial aid.

College students sitting outside

Some first-gen students also suffer from low academic self-esteem and may feel uncomfortable fitting into the college atmosphere. It is even more critical to establish a connection and establish it early. Offering support to first-gen students can be as simple as making them aware of the resources at their disposal.

With a wide range of interests and backgrounds, you’ll never reach every student with one approach. Make your strategies as diverse as the group of students you’re trying to reach. 

 

Here are some ideas to incorporate into your communication strategies and boost engagement with your students: 

Communication is Key

Students want and need information. Whether you’re reminding your students of deadlines, checking in to see if they need help, or inviting them to career orientation sessions, you’ll find that concise, personal, and relevant texts are effective ways to engage.

Send them a text promoting new classes, or an event a prospective student may find interesting. Whether you’re texting, emailing, or calling, the most essential piece of the puzzle is the message itself.

Career Centric

The end goal for most college students is to earn a degree that benefits their future or current careers. However, 16% of the adult learners surveyed by Guild report that their institution offered no initiatives around career success, or they weren’t aware of them. 

Highlight how your school’s courses, professors, and environment create the perfect atmosphere to foster career advancement and success. Keep in mind that some adult learners receive tuition reimbursement from their employers for continuing education. Make the case for why they should choose your institution.

First-generation college students are unique in that they often struggle to connect majors to specific positions or career outcomes. Encourage and communicate the benefits of advising sessions to help guide students in the right direction. This group needs more education around the resources your school offers and how to use them.

When and Where

Generally, most campus resources are only available for students during business hours. Remote students may not have the physical means to get to campus for an advising appointment. Working students might only be able to carve out 30 minutes during the weekend. 

Opening up access to advising appointments, mental health resources, and more after hours and in different formats other than in-person can increase students’ likelihood of using them. You can do this by creating an online information hub with quick links to resources and adding a chatbot for 24/7 self-service support on your website. 

Utilize Your Alumni

Your relationship with your students doesn’t end when they graduate or transfer to a four-year institution.

Tap into your alumni from all walks of life to share success stories, sit in on a panel discussion, or do a texting takeover. Their insight into how they accomplished graduating can be inspirational and a valuable takeaway for students. 

 

Value is Your Greatest Asset

Clearly communicate the long-term benefits of investing in community college. Show how your school is the most cost-effective path to higher earning potential, better career opportunities, and higher job security and satisfaction.

The more you can communicate real and potential outcomes from your institution, the higher your enrollment numbers will be. 

If you haven't already, invest in tools and processes that help you guide students through complicated tasks and processes. The more helpful you are, and the easier you make the search and enrollment process, the more likely you are to capture prospective students.

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