How to avoid sending your students 400 emails they won't even open

Students have little patience for esoteric language

Flooding students with emails is an ineffective method of communication, and can be detrimental to student success, Beckie Supiano writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

When students—especially new students and first-generation students—receive a mountain of emails from their school, they struggle to determine which ones are time-sensitive and demand action.

"Miss an email from the rec center, and you'll probably be all right," says Supiano, "but overlooking a key message about financial aid or class registration could have major consequences."

The email-overload issue has come to light recently at schools such as Texas A&M University at College Station, Georgia State University (GSU), and Michigan State University (MSU). At MSU this year, administrators realized they sent more than 400 emails to prospective students between their academic college acceptance and paying their enrollment deposits.

To streamline and scale back on emails, schools are:

  • Adopting tools to identify which students have registration holds, and only sending certain emails to that group;
  • Ensuring the language in emails is not too complex by determining the reading level;
  • Directing students to a website with scholarship opportunities rather than emailing them;
  • Standardizing emails' "from" fields and signatures;
  • Process mapping to view the email overload through students' perspectives;
  • Centralizing communication staff to make emails more consistent; and
  • Reevaluating the proper medium for each message.

Why texting your students isn't "coddling"

In addition, GSU and MSU are looking to create a central online portal that makes information accessible to all students as an alternative to emails. But, Kristen Renn, a professor of higher, adult, and lifelong education and former associate dean at MSU, says the portal will only work if it's easy to use.

At MSU, focus groups for the new online portal will play a major role in determining its usability.

Texting can be a powerful recruiting tool, but only if you're sending the right message

"Many schools are beginning to recognize that the way they communicate with students, particularly through email, is fundamentally broken. This can have major consequences, especially for first-generation students," says Lindsay Miars, a student success expert at EAB.

However, Miars argues, schools shouldn't give up on email entirely just yet.

"In many ways, email is still our best bet because it has a pervasiveness that no other medium has," she says. Instead of abandoning it, she recommends reducing the volume of email, writing better messages, and adapting strategies from behavioral science to improve engagement. Some schools are also experimenting with new channels for communication, she says (Supiano, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/20).

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