Bridgewater State University’s Student Affairs Communications Technology

Bridgewater State University is onto something special when it comes to student retention.

Dr. Ed Cabellon, Assistant to the VP of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Bridgewater State University, recently talked with us about how his university leveraged technology to build capacity and more effectively engage and retain current students.  

Below are some of the highlights from our conversation.

The void and the need for current student communications.

A lot of universities have built out their strategy for engaging potential recruits and keeping in touch with alumni, but engaging current students tends to slip through the cracks at many institutions.  Given the obvious need for finding prospective new students and keeping alumni connected, happy, and giving back, this void has created weaknesses globally in current student nurturing.

Who is owning the day-to-day engagement of our current students?  When you look at the landscape of marketing communications and digital engagement, the organizations are focused on the external communications for branding and marketing purposes.  

It’s cheaper to retain current students than to recruit new students.  In a job market where additional training and education has become an avenue towards employment security and additional pay, retaining students for the duration of their education is beneficial to the university.  Therefore, having a digital strategy to engage students in a number of ways is exceptionally important, but typically severely lacking or inefficient.

Using technology to better engage and retain students.

We live in an era of technology of explosion.  The way technology is integrated into daily life is becoming more and more important.  The speed at which this integration is happening can be overwhelming; you learn one and then something new comes out.  Capacity for such technology varies from person to person.  However, and this is exceptionally true of places that train for employment, technology use is a fact of professional life and will be evident on your campus.

In terms of engagement, we found that most people, regardless of the extent to which they were involved with various tech, usually stuck with what they were comfortable with.  Changing ways they take in information by engaging them effectively became important in establishing ease and comfort so that they would return to this process repeatedly.

If we’re all about students, Then we have to embrace technology’s capacity to provide us other, different ways of doing things.  We pause and resist because it may require us to change the way we’re comfortable doing things, but if we believe students are the most important thing, we have to rethink that.

For example, we run on a basic, traditional 8-5 schedule with office hours and similar, but we have students that are up all hours of the night for a number of different reasons.  We can’t be open 24/7, but what is a way we can compromise by using technology more efficiently so that they can contact us?  How can technology help us expand our presence in this area?

The ability to transform the office – where are you are for work and through automated tasks like e-mail replies or updates – is in the interest of serving our students.  Similarly, using messaging, whether physically in the classroom or digitally through Blackboard and other student programs, that engages students effectively is more complicated than just having something; it needs to be present in a form that students will notice and remember so that it increases their access to it.

We know the high touch points throughout the year.  Even something as simple as link shortening can help others gain access much more easily and typically leads to more traffic and better exposure.

How to Get University Buy-in on Student Communications Strategies

The academy is hierarchical, so you won’t be able to work around it like you could in other business.  Depending on where you sit in the organization will in some ways determine how others interact with you, so understanding organizational theory and how people fit in this framework will help you better adapt your approach for pitching your ideas.  Integrating your goals into things that will help meet needs for other groups is a great way to be heard.  

Knowing the language and the lingo of those you’re talking to is key.  Making people comfortable by explaining something in terms to which they relate helps get everyone on the same page.  It’s easy to make the mistake of trying to sound sophisticated through terminology, but you need other groups on board.  They’re much less inclined to be sensitive to your cause when they don’t understand.

You should have data around what you want to do.  This includes not just numbers or figures, but stories as well.  Pay attention to what your audience is loving and eating up and get more of it!  When a gradual move or more dynamic change in direction is needed, this helps avoid discomfort by allowing others to manage and process the changes.  People can be easily overwhelmed when things are stacked on top of what they’re already doing.

In the end it’s to help our profession get better and engage our students in a way that makes them want to come back year after year until they graduate.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Ed Cabellon from the Bridgewater State University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.