Situation: Hispanic teens encounter several barriers in connecting to financial aid resources.
The Pew Research Center’s 2014 National Survey of Latinos found that half of Latino adults consider education an extremely important issue for them personally. However, while 73 percent of Hispanics think higher education is available to anyone in the U.S. who needs it, only 51 percent think higher education is affordable for Americans. (Gallup Poll, 2014)
Many Hispanic students who come from economically challenged households don’t have access to the resources they need to help them succeed. In particular, their parents are often not familiar with college, the application process, or the options for financial aid. Many families are also unaware of financial aid options available to undocumented immigrants.
Opportunity: Connect Hispanic teens with financial aid experts in order to help them enroll in college.
The nonprofit organization Get Schooled specializes in helping young people on the path to higher education. They recognized the barriers that many Hispanic teens face in trying to attend college, and wanted to create a program to make financial aid information available to them in a way that made sense to them.
Get Schooled previously partnered with Google Hangouts to connect Hispanic students to FAFSA experts, but experienced a low program participation rate. They realized that there were too many hurdles in asking students to sign up for a Google account, schedule a time to talk to an expert, and log back in later during their appointment. They needed a communication tool that would help students receive the answers they needed in a more natural and accessible environment.
Action: Partner with Univision to launch a financial aid text message hotline that reaches Hispanic teens where they’re most comfortable – on their cell phones.
Get Schooled realized that text messaging is the perfect channel for communicating with teens. It’s their de facto method of communication, preferred over email, phone calls, and even face-to-face conversations. Teenagers can text from wherever they are, while having full disclosure and complete privacy at the same time.
Get Schooled partnered with Univision, an American Spanish language broadcast television network, to create a pilot text message hotline with experts ready to answer questions in both English and Spanish for teens who needed help understanding the availability and accessibility of financial aid. The hotline was initially launched in California, one of the states with the highest concentration of Hispanic families.
To use the text message hotline, students simply texted in the word “FAFSA” to 335577 or “DINERO” to 335577 in order to be connected with a financial aid expert volunteer. Once they texted in, students could ask any question or series of questions and receive instant feedback from a financial aid expert. De-identified phone numbers made both parents and teens comfortable in texting in on topics ranging from the FAFSA to other sources of federal aid, state aid or scholarships.
To promote the text message hotline, Univision ran a TV commercial during specific education specials in specific markets and posted calls to action in places teenagers were likely to see them – high school hallways, for instance – to make it easy for people to notice and use the service.
Success: Financial aid experts answered questions and provided resources to hundreds of teens and their parents on how to pay for college
The initial launch of the text message hotline was a success – more than 7,000 messages were exchanged between students and financial aid experts in just two months! Two thirds of the texts were in Spanish, and many of them were basic questions about financial aid forms. In a follow up survey, more than 97% of those who texted in found the service to be helpful.
The success of the program led to its expansion to other states in hopes of helping even more students across the country. A month after the pilot, Get Schooled and Univision promoted the text message hotline to audiences in Texas, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona. Get Schooled is excited to continue with the text messaging program as a way of offering resources to teens in order to help them succeed.
“Text messaging was the easiest and fastest way to help our students and parents carry on the college conversation. No matter where the student was at in their college process, we’re able to tailor the experience and provide college resources just for them. The Mobile Commons platform and team was great supporting our college access initiative. It’s an easy platform to use and they’re always there to assist with any questions.” – David Nguyen, Director of Digital Engagement and Communications, Get Schooled