Podcast: From Transactional to Transformational Communication with Students

Many students need help. More than we think. And please don’t jump to the conclusion that the issues are mainly academic, like mastering curriculum, completing projects, or giving presentations. I’m sure these can be challenging for students—and good academics should be challenging. I’m speaking more broadly about your students’ journeys through your institution.

For example, in our most recent Community Insights report studying the pathway challenges of more than 4 million students across all sectors of higher education, we found that 98 percent of institutions are losing more students above 2.0 than below—upwards of 70 percent of non persisters; and more than 44 percent of non-persisting students were in the 3.0-4.0 range. Most of these students are not leaving because of challenges in the classroom.

Laura Malcolm Picture

Very often the challenge is with choosing, getting on, and staying on an academic path. It’s about the academic pathway milestones like choosing a major, selecting classes, scheduling sections, and mapping this journey towards a career. Other times, however, the help students need is with their mindset—the way they see the road and their place on it. Many first-generation or low-income students feel like imposters, like they are going to be found out at any time as not belonging at their college or university. Still others are facing life and logistics challenges. From homelessness to food insecurity to cars breaking down to work being uncooperative to children getting sick, many “post-traditional” students wrestle with complexities often not fully considered.

For many of these students, the right message sent at the right time in the right way by the right person can be the difference between a life-changing degree or just deeper debt, between a shining success that launches a life or yet another failure that locks them in a low-income spiral. Moreover, a well-timed nudge with personalized information, important insight, or even an emergency loans can help a student start right, course correct, overcome significant obstacles, and finish strong. Indeed, our college and university partners are learning that there is science and an art to personalizing pathways and making engagement more precise, and it increasingly begins by listening to the stories told in student data, coupled with the actual stories of students. Put simply, when it comes to communication, listening well matters.

In this Podcast, I talk with Laura Malcolm, our Senior Vice President for Outcomes and Strategy and Co-Founder, about what our colleges and universities are learning about the art and science of communicating with students. Specifically, she unpacks the importance of taking the leap from transactional communication (e.g., “orientation is next week”) to transformational (e.g., “we’re proud of you” and “the challenges you’re experiencing are normal”). Moreover, Laura will explain how these communication campaigns are guided by data science and design thinking, combined with mindset messaging and behavioral economics—campaigns that are seeing significantly positive results for students! Enjoy the conversation!

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  1. Please contact me. I’m interested in partnering with Civitas.

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