Community colleges everywhere are starting to see enrollment numbers climb back up as students look forward to a return to the classroom. However, when the number of students increases too quickly, it can overwhelm staff and provide students with a disappointing experience.
Much of this growth is being spurred by first-generation students, who have greater accessibility to education today than previous generations. Despite an eagerness to attend, much of the enrollment process is wrapped in red tape and creates confusion as students are left with little guidance at home.
This makes attracting and engaging first-generation students crucial to growing enrollment at two-year colleges. No matter what happens to the future of higher education, community colleges are going to play a much-needed role in closing the equity gap. Therefore, they need to do everything possible to remove barriers that would otherwise prevent first-generation students from attending.
Here are three strategies community colleges must implement to drive student engagement.
- Reduce complexity as much as possible
The college application process wasn’t made with lower-income students in mind. Digital applications are confusing and paying for college or applying for financial aid can be confusing. In addition, most colleges use antiquated technology or processes to handle interest from prospective students.
Provide prospective students with detailed instructions on how to apply with tutorials and resources that allow students to quickly get their questions answered. When possible, consider dropping requirements to make the application process simple and efficient.
You should also make your website mobile-friendly as prospective students might have limited access to Wi-Fi or have to share a computer with multiple family members. In order to make your process accessible to all, you should make your application simple enough that students could complete the entire process with their mobile device.
While a laptop or Wi-Fi won’t necessarily be readily available, most students are used to making purchasing decisions on a mobile device and feel significantly more comfortable communicating their needs over text or a messaging app.
Once admitted, prepare to provide discounted or free internet access and laptops to lower-income students so they can stream lectures as needed and complete assignments in a timely manner. In some cases, the digital divide between students who can and can’t afford the requisite technology is so great, that low-income students at times resort to writing essays on their laptop. Bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots at community colleges will ultimately lead to more predictable student attendance.
- Let students converse in their native language
The best way to turn your students off is by not catering to your students’ needs. And the most notable example of this is when institutions only offer content in English.
If two-year colleges are going to attract first-generation students, they need to ensure their website is accessible to all students regardless of their native language. In addition to offering your website in a variety of languages, two-year colleges must account for having support channels available in the student’s native language.
- Provide mental health support
A recent report from the student services research organization, and four other mental health advocacy organizations including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), found 58 percent of higher education students reporting being moderate to extremely worried about their personal mental health. It is evident that meeting the mental health needs of students continues to be a very important part of higher education.
And community college students have no shortage of challenges. Whether it's juggling academics with a job or taking care of family members, prioritizing mental health is a must for community colleges hoping to help first-generation students feel comfortable. Since community colleges deal with non-traditional students, they are typically older and are going to college to further their current career path.
In order to retain a new influx of students, community colleges need to be proactive in dealing with student mental health. Instead of waiting for students to reach out when they’re struggling, reach out periodically at times when students are prone to facing higher anxiety or depression. While first-generation students desperately want to achieve academic success, they often need support to get there.
Every year, students interested in attending a two-year college go through the application process in hopes of getting a quality education at an affordable price. Yet, the number of barriers first-generation students face can often feel insurmountable.
By prioritizing the above strategies, community colleges can help make their environment more accessible. Yet creating that accessible environment can often pose a significant challenge. Fortunately, chatbots can help accomplish many of the above objectives thanks to the advent of artificial intelligence.
The next section will explore some functions AI chatbots have with allowing community colleges to create an accessible environment.
Engaging Students with AI Chatbots
Today’s students are considered digital natives, meaning they expect to receive information at their wish.
Since students can do almost anything, from ordering pizza to furnishing an apartment, all from their mobile device, they simply do not want to deal with antiquated processes when it comes to higher education.
Students are no longer reliant on traditional communication channels, and want to text or chat, just as they have grown accustomed to interacting with customer service departments in other areas.
Here are a few ways chatbots can help community colleges better engage with students.
- Proactive engagement - Chatbots allow two-year college administrators to efficiently answer student questions proactively through text message or a social media messenger of their choice. They can also converse with the student in the language of their choice.
- Simplify processes and reduce paperwork - Chatbots enable digital transformation within the institution by eliminating paper (and therefore, in-person visits) while also keeping students up-to-date. They can also help nudge students along the journey with highly relevant information.
- Scale support - Provide 24/7 access to information on multiple channels and support on a variety of administrative tasks. Chatbots also help students keep their mental health in check.
As chatbots continue to permeate the way society operates, there will be greater expectations for institutions to adapt accordingly. Those who don’t, will ultimately be left behind. Due to the changing landscape of higher education, community colleges have the most to gain by embracing chatbots.
While enrollment at community colleges is suffering, administrators can help reverse that trend by embracing digital transformation. With a massive influx of capital and groundbreaking technology available, there’s never been a better time to take advantage of all that chatbots have to offer.
Ready to learn more about driving engagement for your community college? Download our whitepaper here.