Student Success Insights Blog

Why texting your students isn't 'coddling'

by Annie Yi

As I’ve been talking to education leaders about Guide, our first direct-to-student technology, I’ve been getting a barrage of questions—some expected, some less so.

Typical interjections include:

  • "Isn't this hand-holding?"
  • "Why should I have to track down students when they're not doing well? Isn't that their responsibility?"
  • "Shouldn't college teach these students how to be self-sufficient and independent so that they're prepared for the real world?"

In fact, I’ve had these questions come up when I talk about virtually any of the best practices in student enablement that EAB has surfaced across the past couple of years—things like more targeted advisor emails, increased offerings in counseling and tutoring services, improved transfer pathways between two- and four-year institutions, and web portals with more intuitive financial aid resources.

I’ve concluded that at least in some cases, the stance of higher education’s “old guard” seems to be that if they didn’t need it when they were in college, neither do today’s students. Even Washington Post education writer Jeffrey Selingo recently asked if student success technology was nothing more than a form of coddling.

What many institutions have already come to realize, though, is that today’s students are genuinely different than their predecessors—they face a “hidden curriculum” without any inherited knowledge about higher education to navigate it. With this new higher education landscape, it’s clear that student enablement is not coddling—as Selingo ultimately realized, it’s simply evening the playing field.

Related: How can you help students navigate the hidden curriculum?

What makes today's students different?

A large rise in the proportion of minority high school graduates is permanently changing the undergraduate enrollment base. Just how dramatic is this change? Roughly 75% of the net increase in total enrollment over the next 11 years will come from black and Hispanic students, and by 2019–2020, 45% of public high school graduates will be non-white, compared to just 38% in the class of 2009. These students are more likely to fall below the poverty level and to be the first in their families to go to college, but less likely to graduate within six years than their white peers.

So, as the higher education landscape changes, colleges’ approaches to supporting students will have to change too.

Free download: A first look at preparing for higher education's changing demographics

As we’ve previously written, these disadvantages produce a resilience gap between affluent students and their less affluent peers. What originally starts as a material disadvantage results in an insecure mindset—at-risk students feel overwhelmed by the demands of college and often don’t integrate into campus environments easily because they’re constantly questioning whether or not they “deserve to be there.”

While all new students are vulnerable to these types of thoughts, bumps along the road can be particularly detrimental for the growing disadvantaged student population.

For example, our research found that the typical bursar’s hold that led students to drop out at Georgia State University averaged $900. While this amount may seem inconsequential to some, to many others, it’s insurmountable.

Furthermore, disadvantaged students typically juggle more responsibilities (e.g., working in addition to going to school)—so each additional task in the maze of campus requirements is more cognitively taxing than it is for a student without financial difficulties. The complexity of FAFSA inherently discriminates against those without institutional knowledge, particularly first-generation students, creating essentially another admissions test for these students.

A helping hand, not a handout

Given what we know about the systemic barriers the newest generation of students face, it makes little sense to deny them the benefits of student enablement out of a concern that it would make college “too easy.” From weighing funding options to acclimating to an alien campus culture to balancing time between work and study, these students must persevere just to complete the peripheral tasks required to stay in school.

Smart and automated student enablement technologies reduce unnecessary barriers and frustrations so that students can focus on the important things—like academic achievement, co-curricular experiences, and success beyond graduation.

Arming students with the tools for completion and success isn’t infantilizing them. By using platforms like Guide to build context and awareness, we can help students take better advantage of the resources available to them on campus.

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