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How education staff can help students claim available FAFSA money left on the table

Technology — specifically, simple, personalized text messages — can nudge students toward accessing federal student aid.

Brian Kathman
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Brian Kathman Founder and CEO

Brian Kathman is CEO of Signal Vine, an enterprise text messaging...

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According to NerdWallet.com, unsubmitted or incomplete Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms contributed to $2.7 billion in unclaimed free federal grant money in 2015. Another study by the Journal of Student Financial Aid surveyed 4,000 students about the potential roadblocks preventing on-time FAFSA completion and found several contributing factors: The application process is too confusing, it’s difficult to get the proper financial information from parents, and students feel that too much information is demanded from them. FAFSA forms are intended to provide additional resources toward funding a college education, but instead, they’re hindering students that need this help the most.

What can be done to eliminate these roadblocks? The answer is simple: easy-to-follow text message reminders. Texts meet students where they already are — on their phones — and help break down the complicated FAFSA application process into bite-size pieces. This type of texting program has worked well for the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), which reached out to 16,000 students across Louisiana with text reminders about scholarship and FAFSA opportunities this past year. Seventy-six percent of high school seniors in the program texted back at least once, and the program ultimately contributed to a 7 percent increase in FAFSA submissions in the state of Louisiana.

There’s no denying it: students today rely on their phones more than ever. Sending FAFSA tips and deadline reminders via text is an effective way to help students claim available federal grant money.

Creating an Effective Strategy

Because students are constantly pulled in different directions, you’ll want to build a text campaign that is purposeful and efficient to keep their attention. We’ve rounded up our top tips for creating a successful student texting strategy:

  • Identify the goal you want to achieve by texting students and work backwards from there. So, if the goal is to increase the number of FAFSA submissions, consider the potential roadblocks in place and how each can be overcome with text nudges.
  • Assign deadlines to each goal. What is the absolutely final date by which students need to complete an upcoming task?
  • Block off time to respond to incoming texts once your scheduled text messages have been sent out. A quick response time is a key factor in the success of your texting campaign. Students will depend on your answers to their questions about FAFSA deadlines, how to submit the forms once they’re completed, financial information requested of them, etc.

Basics of Texting Students

When it comes to the actual content of your texts to students, there are certain things students want to hear from you. Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind when texting students:

Do:

  • Be specific. Include only succinct information relevant to the end goal.
  • Be direct. Provide the information students need upfront so they don’t get lost digging through resources.

Don’t:

  • Delay your response. It only takes 90 seconds to answer a text.
  • Attempt “hip” language in your texts. No “dis” for “this” or “u” for “you.”

What to Do When You Don’t Hear Back

If you don’t hear back right away, don’t panic. You probably weren’t personal enough in your message. The best way to get a response from students is to incorporate personalization in each text. Students want to feel like you care about them enough to send them an individualized message rather than include them in a mass text blast. If your text seems canned or impersonal, students will think you’re a robot and won’t respond. Customization is a step you don’t want to skip.

Students today are constantly plugged into their smartphones, which creates an opportunity for you to send an extra nudge about steps in the college process that are often overlooked or skipped altogether. Texting is a simple and effective way to reach students with the information they need related to these steps. Before you know it, you’ll be nudging your students to success one text at a time.

Brian Kathman is CEO of Signal Vine, an enterprise text messaging platform that seeks to transform the way higher education institutions reach and engage students. The company serves more than 200 higher education organizations, including the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, University of New Mexico and Austin Community College.

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Education IT News, BYOD / Mobile, Department of Education, Edtech, Digital Equity, Policy, Commentary, Opinions, Signal Vine, FAFSA, Text message

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