3 Ways to Change Your Outreach Strategy and Engage More Students


This blog was authored by Lisa Hansen. Lisa Hansen is the Director of OneStop Student Support and Retention Services at Blackboard and works collaboratively with partner institutions to increase student satisfaction and persistence through 24/7 Virtual Student Engagement and proactive outreach and retention support.

Each academic year, institutions welcome students with excitement and anticipation of the year ahead. We roll out the red carpet with welcome events and mixers, all in an attempt to connect students with the campus and help them to feel a sense of belonging.

But what happens in weeks three and four of the academic year? What about two months into the semester? How do we make sure students continue to stay engaged? How do we make sure they know about the critical pieces of information that will aid them in their success at our college or university? Many of these questions can be addressed by a simple—yet complex—answer: communication. Sounds easy right? Never!

Common issues with student communications in higher education

While all institutions communicate with their students, we see issues occur most commonly in two specific areas:

Student communication modalities: email has been and still is the most common way institutions reach out to students. What’s interesting is when you ask a student, they know that’s how their college or university reaches out to them, but they also will tell you it would be nice to get that information in some additional ways as well.

Student communication timing and sender: there is commonly an ‘eb and flow’ of communication to students. However, this often turns into an opening and shutting of the flood gates. Let’s say, for example, every office or department at an institution is encouraged to have the mentality of “enrollment is everyone’s responsibility.” This is a great culture to have on your campus, but without proper planning, it can result in numerous departments sending emails at the beginning of an enrollment period saying, “enrollment is open!” Now you’re creating more distractions for students in their inboxes rather than communicating a clear message. With some strategic planning, you can maximize your impact and increase engagement with the information you’re sending.

Take a strategic approach to proactively engaging your students

Let’s talk about some possible solutions that can help clear the “noise” and focus the communication with our students.

Mapping out a proactive and systematic communication plan can dramatically change the way institutions communicate with students. Being able to not only layer communication modalities (live phone calls, automated phone calls, text messages and email) but also coordinate who is sending what and when is incredible! This process also helps streamline communication and cut through the “noise” that happens when students receive almost rapid-fire emails that don’t allow them to see a clear and simple path.

I spent 12 years in higher education, serving for six years as a Director of One Stop Student Services at Wichita State University. In my experience, a great way to begin the process of taking a truly strategic look at communication is the partnership with Blackboard and Engagement Campaigns.  

Blackboard Engagement Campaigns target key populations that have stalled progress at various points in the learning journey. They’re strategically designed to establish contact, deliver a specific call to action, and direct students back to the path to success. They use a framework of multi-modal campaigns that leverage both live and automated outreach capabilities, making them extremely versatile communication tools for institutions.

This process helps in so many ways, but there are three that I specifically saw happen on our campus:

High Level View of Messaging

Using Engagement Campaigns allowed us to look at all the communication we were sending out as a whole instead of siloed instances. Months in advance, we had a plan laid out for which functional areas were going to send out communication and when as well as the subject areas the communication would cover.

Message Modality

We simply didn’t have enough staff to make phone calls to students about specific items, so we rely on email because it’s one push of a button and DONE. Having a partner like Blackboard with resources to make phone calls (live or automated) and send email or text messages provided us with lots of options to get messages to the eyes and ears of our students.

Strategic Messaging

When we combined the idea of knowing who was sending what and when as well as opening the options of modality, we started to look at the best strategy of the complete process. We would have a large outreach by the Blackboard team in one week, filter responses, then a smaller scale outreach in the next month with our campus team to allow for personalized communication from our staff and a more manageable number for everyone involved. 

I am so excited to be a part of the Blackboard team now and help other campuses look at their outreach to current students with a strategic eye. It can be a true game changer for your institution, and we would be happy to help you navigate the way!

Ready to engage your students and keep them on path to success? Learn more about Engagement Campaigns and get students back on track.