With fewer in-person classes and events being held during the pandemic, it can be hard for students to feel connected to campus.
Nebraska’s College of Business recently embarked on an effort to bridge that gap by calling each of its nearly 3,700 undergraduates over winter break.
The calling campaign was started by Rachel Larson, the college’s assistant dean of academic and career development, along with the school’s student services and enrollment management teams, who saw an opportunity to boost student retention between the fall and spring semesters.
“Since there was such a long period over winter break for students to potentially apply to transfer institutions, we wanted to make sure that they really felt that there was a community here in the college and that we cared about them,” Larson said. “That was the idea behind our entire campaign. We had multiple points of outreach, but the calling campaign was the highlight of it.”
Over December and January, 52 faculty, staff and student workers volunteered to make the calls, checking in on how students were doing, asking for feedback and providing resources. The strategy paid off, with the college’s undergraduate student retention rate rising from 82 to 95% for a total increase of 13%.
“Our goals were twofold. First, we wanted to know was how the fall semester went. Was it successful? Was it challenging? What were things that went well for students, and where did they struggle a bit more?” Larson said.
“The second goal was to help encourage students to want to come back. So we ended the calls on, ‘What can we do to help make your spring semester more successful?’ Based upon what students said, we were able to tailor the conversation to suggest certain events they could attend or set them up with an advisor to register for classes. We wanted to make sure that students had a connection to something that might benefit them.”
Larson said the phone calls yielded productive conversations about what the college was doing well and what it could be doing better.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how excited students were about their fall semester and what their experience was. We definitely heard from students who said, ‘Hey, I preferred in-person classes’ — but then we had others that really liked the flexibility of online classes,” Larson said.
Olivia Rempe, a senior marketing major from Chicago and peer career coach in the Business Career Center, helped make 400 calls to students over winter break.
“The most fulfilling part was probably when I would have students that have faced difficulties in terms of the remote teaching environment or socialization and being able to direct them to different avenues within the College of Business they could pursue to be more successful,” Rempe said.
Larson said she couldn’t be happier with the outcome of the campaign.
“I really just attribute that to our callers and our entire plan,” Larson said. “We did parent town halls, postcards from our strength mentors to their first-year students, social media campaigns and emails. It was a great effort that had a fabulous result.”