Communication Best Practices

By Danielle Izzo, Academic Advising Center, Queens College

Often, administrators and faculty perform outreach to their students and see a disappointing return. Students are not engaging and communications start to seem futile. We are left tapping on our imaginary microphones, asking “is this thing on?” And the most common question we ask ourselves is “how do I get students to do the thing I want them to do?” It can be a frustrating routine.

Thoughtful planning in conjunction with the features of QC Navigate may assist in more productive communications with your students. Here are some tips to get you started.

Acting Intentionally

By being more intentional in how we structure our communications with students, each message becomes more focused and students may feel less overwhelmed. It is recommended that you plan each semester, even academic year ahead of time. Meet with colleagues to outline which communications should be sent to which students when. How is a communication in September different than one you may send in October? Look at the academic calendar and your departmental calendar to determine how certain dates on campus may impact the work you perform with students.

Some tools that are helpful in developing a more intentional approach with your colleagues:

  • EAB communications templates for sample language and approaches
  • Real-like or electronic whiteboards for group brainstorming
  • Spreadsheets for organizing and tracking
  • Shared cloud repositories through Google Docs or Microsoft Teams for streamlining your work

Think about how each communication sits among other communications you want to send: are you bombarding the student with too many emails? Are you being too repetitive? Too vague? Could this communication become confusing for students based on other communications that may be getting sent out across campus? Or are you only communicating with your students so infrequently that they do not even acknowledge your emails?

Understand that students receive a lot of communications and are used to receiving so many emails that they perceive do not apply to them. They either just keep scrolling through the inbox, hitting delete, or stop checking their email all together. If we all work from a place of intentionality, students’ inboxes may become more streamlined with the information they truly need.

And most importantly, understand that our ultimate goal is student retention and better communications lead to more engaged students. More engaged students, as we know, are more likely to retain, excel, and graduate on time. This should always be part of the planning and discussion when creating a more intentional communications strategy. Navigate is the tool designed to assist with this.

Targeted Communications

Using the advanced search feature in Navigate, you have the opportunity to tailor your communications to specific groups for a more personalized approach. Think about which information would serve a particular set of students best, keeping in mind groups that may not need the information you want to present or groups who your department may not be able to serve.

Some criteria you may want to consider when building your audience:

  • Including or excluding students based on their Student Group affiliation in CUNYfirst (such as QC in 4, Honors, SEEK, Veterans, etc…). Student groups appear as Categories in Navigate.
  • Categories also include variables such as entry cohort (when a student first enrolled at QC), minor, type of transfer institution, prior degree, and more (scroll through Categories to see all of the possibilities!)
  • Credit accumulation and GPA can help you identify groups of students based on minimum or maximum credit or GPA thresholds.
  • Use Enrollment History to identify currently enrolled students who are not enrolled for the next semester, students enrolled in a summer term, etc.
  • Entry cohort (when a student first enrolled at the College)
  • Area of Study helps you filter by declared major (including concentration within a program) or by degree (for example, to find all the students with a BS major)
  • Performance in a given semester (can look at GPA and credit accumulation during a particular semester)

As you are using the advanced search feature, be sure that you expand out each criterion that includes a + which will give you the ability to search students in some areas, all areas, or in none of areas. See EAB technical guides for more information.

Choose Your Tool Strategically: Messages versus Appointment Campaigns

Once you have selected your audience, you want to consider the best format to reach your students. EAB has two primary features: Messages and Appointment Campaigns.

Messages: this is best for disseminating general information. As opposed to appointment campaigns, this is where you may be a bit more verbose. Simply, you are sending an email to this group of students. Currently, you cannot track the read rate with this feature but other users on campus can access the message you sent through the Conversations feature in each student’s record.

Appointment Campaigns : a fabulous feature when you want to target a group of students to make appointments in your Care Unit. Students receive this communication via an email that can be personalized. With this feature, you have the ability to track the rate of appointments made for your campaign, send out reminders to the students who have yet to make an appointment, and generate reports on the campaign’s success. Navigate also allows you to include students in your reporting who have made an appointment through the duration of your campaign but who may have done so outside of the appointment campaign communication. This is done through the “associate appointments feature.” When setting up a campaign, it is vital to ensure that everyone in your office has their correct availability set so students can make an appointment. EAB has very detailed, user-friendly instructions on how to set up an appointment campaign.

Message Tone

Whether you choose an Appointment Campaign or the Message feature in Navigate, think about how the tone may differ between both tools.

Messages: as mentioned earlier, these may be a bit more verbose. Use messages when you want to push out key information to students. While messages are being sent to the students’ emails on file, keep in mind that most students are reading their emails on their phones and may not scroll (or have the screen width) or read a long email with multiple directives and links. Try to be concise and possibly break up some information into multiple communications as outlined above.

Appointment Campaigns: the goal is for students to take direct action from this communication by making an appointment with your Care Unit. Therefore, the email you compose should be direct outlining: what is the appointment for, why is this appointment important, who is this appointment with, and how should this appointment be made (Navigate will supply you with a link specifically for the particular campaign you’re sending pre-loaded in the email message). Avoid other links in your communication that students may click on, redirecting them away from the task you want them to accomplish: clicking on the appointment link in the email to connect with your office and get the care they need.

For both Messages and Appointment Campaigns:

  • The subject header is one of the most important variables determining whether an email gets opened, so choose your subject wisely. Make your subject short (less than 30 characters), use it to pose a question or action (“How to…”), and experiment with catchy or urgent or mysterious language (e.g., “Come back”, “We’ve missed you”).
  • In the body of the email, use student-centered language. Address the student using second person pronouns. Use the student’s first name in the greeting (you can do this with Appointment Campaigns).
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon and aim for brevity.
  • Be clear about any action that needs to be taken, and place that information prominently at the beginning of the message.

Staying Connected

The best way to see success with this tool—and, consequently, success for our students—is to stay connected with the group of students you are managing and communicating with. Retention efforts are only as effective as the follow-up and attention given to the students you are trying to impact. Do not forget your students. The tool can help with messaging students to “check-in” and offer assistance. Use the appointment campaigns to remind students to make appointments if they didn’t make an appointment or if they did not attend a scheduled appointment.

While we want to support all students on campus, it is also important to think about the most vulnerable students in your care. Who are the students most susceptible of leaving QC or not graduating on time? What support can be provided to these students? How will you communicate them? How will you follow-up with them so students feel valued?

One idea is to create a Watch List in Navigate based on the advanced search you performed to communicate, track, and provide further outreach to a particular group of students.

Support Their Success

Navigate is designed with intentionality in mind: what intention do you have to support student success? Think about how you can leverage the tool to identify a specific group of students that require our care.

Remember, the ultimate goal of Navigate is to support student retention. And as a public institution, we cannot lose sight of how student success through retention and timely graduation rates impact our entire city. This tool allows for us to get creative and work together as a community in our students’ best interest.

Use the QC Community of Navigate Users

If you are having difficulty with any of the QC Navigate tools, we can connect you to another office that has expertise and has experienced success: now is the time to collaborate. If you have an idea or identify an issue with the system, reach out the Queens College community of users. It is with great hope that by strengthening our communication and reporting tools, we can make strides in the success of our students.