CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Higher education officials in West Virginia are reaching out to high school graduates through a medium they know well: text messaging.
The College Foundation of West Virginia has developed a pilot project that texts students personalized information that they need to complete critical college-preparation tasks, such as filling out financial aid forms their senior year.
The messages also will connect students with counselors who can provide assistance, and lend advice on how to adjust to campus life.
West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill and others were recently recognized at the White House in an event hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle celebrating the text program's work toward increased college access.
"The project is completely interactive. When a student texts us a question, they get a response. It's about more than just pushing out information -- it's about being a lasting source of counseling and support," Hill said. "We're sending friendly reminders to students about critical steps in the college-going process, like completing the FAFSA, and we're answering each question they have."
"With the average college-going rate among this group of students at less than 50 percent, we are hoping to make a real difference for our young people -- like the student who had forgotten to register for the ACT and was thankful for a reminder we texted to her last week," he said.
The project launched last month as a three-year pilot, focusing on a select group of high school seniors across the state.
The program will provide text-message interventions and linked services to approximately 3,000 students over the course of three years -- 1,000 each in the high school graduating classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016.
Early results of the project are "promising," though, Hill said. More than half of the students who participate in West Virginia Gear Up -- a federally funded program aimed at increasing the number of low-income students that enroll in college -- opted to receive the test messages.
Bluefield State College, Concord University, Marshall University and Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College have signed on as partners in the effort.
In March, students planning to attend one of these institutions will begin receiving personalized text messages directly from that campus. The messages will continue through the end of freshman year. Students attending other institutions will continue receiving messages as well.
This program is the result of a $225,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation and was designed in collaboration with University of Virginia professor Ben Castleman.
Assuming the project is successful, the CFWV plans to expand services to additional students in the coming years.
For more information, visit http://www.cfwvconnect.com/text-messaging-intervention.Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.