How to Communicate with Students

Lately at my university, there have been many conversations regarding how to communicate effectively with students. In an effort to reduce costs, we have moved predominantly to email-only communication with students regarding their educational process at the institution. The problem? Research continues to show us that students don’t really check their email.

My personal experience trying to communicate with students about the housing application/assignment process confirms that students don’t check email. Furthermore, I’m continually frustrated to see Joe Shmoe’s email addresses very clearly a parent or family account. Then, when Joe Shmoe doesn’t have all the information he needs to make informed decisions about his housing, he has the audacity to get mad at me for not giving him the information! It’s the epitome of a lose-lose situation.

So if you can’t get students to check their email (or provide you with one they actually use), how can you communicate with them? Many universities have moved to utilizing social media in creative ways to communicate with students. Creating a Facebook or Twitter account is an excellent start at providing general resources and information for students. This is great if you actually check those accounts, and open up a dialogue with students. Creating an account and then never posting anything or answering questions from students could end up as more of a detriment to your reputation than an asset.

There are even some universities that create an innovative social media platform for their students. The University of Florida, for example, created Gatorspace as a place for incoming and current Gators to connect and build relationships via the Social Text platform. Gatorspace is still relatively new, but has provided an innovative opportunity for University of Florida students to make connections with the university before they even attend their first class.

What other options are out there, especially if you don’t have the money to invest in your own social network?

Whatever you do, make sure to provide a number of outlets for students to receive important information from your university, so they are able to make informed and complete decisions about their educational experience. Don’t rely solely on one medium or another to connect with students. It’s important to provide a variety of avenues for students to connect with staff and student leaders from your university while they are making important decisions about where they will eventually attend college. It also never hurts to pick up the phone and give students a call every now and then, to see if they have any questions about the process. Taking that extra step to connect one-on-one with students may just help them choose your university over that other one that’s also courting them.

So what tips do you have for effectively communicating with college students?

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  • Rachel Pierce

    Text ‘em.  They all text.  Seriously, though, I run into the same problem and it’s frustrating.  Part of the task, I believe, is to socialize students and their parents into the culture of higher ed:  you’re considered (more of) a grown-up now, with rights, responsibilities and decision-making power and part of being a grown-up is to check your email.  Or seek out information that you need.

    Short of that, I say universities invest in software to send info by text – even if it’s just a link to a website with the rest of the info.  Texting is where it’s at for this generation, at least for the moment.