Ana’s Impact in Fall 2023 – A Look at Upswing’s Virtual Assistant
Amongst the many useful tools that Upswing offers, Ana, our SMS virtual assistant, is one of our students’ favorites. We regularly survey our students to determine Ana’s effectiveness so we can better serve our students, and we’re excited to share some of our most recent findings.
What is Ana?
As technology becomes increasingly ever-present in students’ lives, it’s more important than ever to meet students where they are by delivering critical services in an efficient and convenient manner. Recent research has found that online learning has increased by 900% over the past two decades, and 72% of college students would prefer at least one online course each semester. Additionally, 97% of college students own a smartphone, and 95% of students bring their phones to class with them. Without tools like Ana, higher education professionals are missing out on a prime opportunity to speak directly with the vast majority of their students.
As a text messaging-based service, Ana delivers campus resources, timely reminders, and encouragement texts directly to the mobile phones of college students each semester. Ana serves multiple purposes within a college setting, primarily that of accessible, convenient, and effective reminders for students to increase retention and engagement. Administrators can also use our Ana data dashboards, which allows them to quickly see how many students are engaging with Ana, which messages are performing the best, and how students are responding.
We work closely with our partner institutions each year to develop tailored message plans that include custom URLs for campus departments and specific deadline reminders such as applying for graduation. Our partner can always create their own text, although Upswing has an entire library of data-driven messages that we continue to optimize each semester. Ana distributes messages about once or twice a week, and students can always request immediate support. Some of Ana’s responses are generated with automation, and some are human-generated in real time.
Ana also serves as an early intervention system to ensure that students are not falling through the cracks. Because students can freely respond to Ana, they will occasionally send messages that require immediate attention. Our Ana team has an escalation process to alert administrators to a range of scenarios, from housing and food insecurity to risk of suicide or dropping out. By promptly bringing these issues to an administrator’s attention, we help students connect to the appropriate support staff on campus who can provide the effective type of outreach as quickly as possible.
Ana by the Numbers
In December 2023, students subscribed to Ana received a brief survey. We include this survey at the end of each semester so our Ana team can adapt the message plans to students’ needs while also providing valuable retention information to our partners. Over 60,0000 students from 19 of our partners received this survey last semester, and we received over 10,000 responses. In total, we sent about 750,000 messages between August and December of last year.
About 82% of respondents are returning to their institution, with the remainder of students either graduating (8.01%), transferring (4.86%), or “other” (5.05%). Ana exists to help keep students enrolled in higher education, and when we exclude the students who are graduating or transferring to another institution, our partner institutions are retaining 94.21% of their students who engage with Ana. A total of 90.35% of all students found Ana’s messages helpful or very helpful last semester, a figure that is even greater for students who are returning to their institution (91.54%). When we break this down by each institution, the student satisfaction rate ranged from 80.22% to 95.65%.
When we take a look at our most recent data from a full year’s implementation of Ana (2022-2023), we see some more interesting information. With our early intervention system, we helped escalate 48 instances of drop-out risk to campus administrators, as well as 44 instances of self-harm risk or other forms of distress.
We also found that the implementation of Ana on campus increases the likelihood of graduating by .8 percentage points, which reflects a 13.7% increase from the baseline graduation rate. Students receiving messages from Ana were 2.2 percentage points more likely to agree with the following statement: “I am aware of important deadlines and announcements for my institution.” These students were also 2.7 percentage points more likely to agree with this statement: “My institution encourages me to be successful.”
How Students Are Responding
Data and analysis is a major component of what Ana delivers to our partner institutions, and we can see Ana’s impact beyond our regular surveys. When we take a look at some of the other responses we’ve received throughout the semester, we can see some fascinating trends.
At the beginning of the semester, the resources that students requested the most included Financial Aid or Tuition Payments (39.56%), and support getting or using their course textbooks (30.67%). When students were asked about what kind of campus resources they would benefit from, they were primarily seeking mental health support (35.27%); we were able to follow up with these students by directing them to their campus counseling center as well as our own counseling platform with BetterMynd. At our mid-semester check in, students were mostly looking for academic support (40.75%), and we responded with a link to that student’s on-campus tutoring center as well as our Upswing platform with 24/7 tutoring in all subjects.
Towards the end of the semester, 60.19% of students said they could use a confidence boost and 68.34% of students said they needed at least some help as they approached finals. Many students often struggle to ask for help when they need it most, but when they receive an automated message to prompt them, students tend to be more open to reaching out for a lifeline. A few other messages that Ana sent last semester included stress and time management tips, reminders for course registration and FAFSA deadlines, multiple nudges for online tutoring, and self-care strategies.
If you would like to learn more about how Ana can increase your campus’ student retention and engagement while providing you with invaluable insights to the support they need, please reach out to us here.
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