Using behavioral science to improve messaging to students

November 1, 2020
  • Admissions and Recruitment
  • Communication
  • Communications Plan
  • Community Colleges
  • Enrollment Management
Masked student in library holding a book.

In 2019, the Borough of Manhattan Community College set out to improve the overall success of its at-risk students. The college’s enrollment management team looked to behavioral science research in order to understand the sociological and emotional challenges these students face in beginning higher education. They then established a plan focused on improving students’ mindset.  

“The enrollment management (EM) team began to consider how they might start influencing students earlier in the admissions and enrollment process to help ensure that they get off to a positive start,” wrote Lisa Kasper, Diane Walleser and Kristin Waters in their recent SEMQ article.  “The team observed the work their advising and faculty colleagues were engaged in around growth mindset theory and questioned whether using mindset theory would help how they approached students.”

They added: “Faculty and advising teams at BMCC were already using growth mindset theory to help students believe they are capable of learning and were providing tips on how showing them tenacity combined with good habits could generate positive results.  The EM team began to consider how they might influence the positive mindset of students during the admissions and enrollment process so they could reduce the number of students dropping out the first semester.” The team also explored research on imposter theory and liminal theory. 

Taking what they learned from the research, they implemented several strategies to improve communications and relationships with students. Steps included:   

  • Audit all student messaging;

  • Include language that reinforces the “beauty of blunders”;

  • Demystify the college process and elucidate planning and next steps;

  • Reinforce the importance of early connection with professors, peers, activities; and

  • Dial up the quality of care

In practicing this work, the EM team noticed a shift in the staff mindset about what constitutes good service and the importance of creating a welcoming environment for students. “This shift in staff mindset will continue to empower the EM work teams to provide positive and welcoming services for students who are seeking a sense of belonging and need reinforcement to know that they made the right choice in coming to college,” the authors wrote. 

BMCC’s EM team will assess over the next year the plan’s outcomes. “BMCC is optimistic that these initiatives will help create a welcoming and supportive environment that students want and need to positively support their college success,” the authors wrote.

Vol. 8, Issue 3 also includes the following feature articles:  

The Need for Transformative Leadership in Strategic Enrollment Management

By Lisa Emery

Strengthening Strategic Enrollment Management through Institutional Strategic Planning and Assessment

By Tara Hornor

Ten Techniques to Increase Collaboration between Admissions and Marketing Offices

By Carrie H. Phillips

SEM Quarterly provides knowledge and insight into the ongoing evolution of strategic enrollment management (SEM) by bridging the gap between theory and practice. Articles by thought leaders and practitioners address the emerging dynamics of SEM, including: executive-level leadership, leading strategies, internationalization, research, academic orientation, and current trends.

For more information, or to submit a manuscript, please contact the Editor-in-Chief or the Managing Editor.


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