On Jan. 16, Paul Hill, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Adam Green, senior director of the Commission's Student Success and P-20 Initiatives, participated in an event hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama focused on new initiatives that will expand college opportunity.
West Virginia's text messaging support project – which launched this month and provides a pilot group of high school seniors personalized college counseling by text message – was highlighted as part of the event as a new, innovative action aimed at increasing college access and completion.
"The project is completely interactive," Hill said. "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.
"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."
Hill said early results of the three-year project are promising. Students given the option to receive text messages in the first year also participate in West Virginia GEAR UP, a federally-funded program aimed at increasing the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in post secondary education. Fifty-seven percent of GEAR UP students from 14 high schools opted to receive text messages, totaling nearly 950 high school seniors.
"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," Hill said.
Bluefield State College, Concord University, Marshall University and Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College have signed on as partners in this effort. In March, students planning to attend one of these institutions will begin receiving personalized text messages directly from that campus that will continue through the end of their freshman year. Students attending other institutions will continue receiving messages as well.
In line with the White House's call to action to expand college opportunity, the Commission has committed to include at least one additional post secondary partner by the end of this year, in addition to adding at least 1,000 students annually over the course of the project.
This pilot 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.