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13 Wisconsin Districts Attempt to Increase On-Time College Enrollment with Text Steps Program

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

In an attempt to avoid “summer melt,” 13 school districts in the state are participating in Text Steps, a project funded by the Ascendium Education Group. The project helps districts set up a summer texting program to support students from low-income backgrounds who wish to attend college to complete the final tasks that sometimes prevent successful enrollment.

Text Steps addresses everything from financial aid to housing through a series of timely text messages from counselors in participating school districts. Students are able to respond with questions, concerns, and in some districts, even requests to meet with counselors.

Julie Slaats-Rowe, a school counselor for Logan High School in the School District of La Crosse, and coordinator of their Text Steps program is hopeful that this support will remove any barriers for those students who applied for and want to go to college.

“Our counselors are meeting with students regularly,” said Slaats-Rowe. “They reach out to ask counselors if they can meet with them to help with financial aid follow-through. There’s texting too, through SignalVine to follow-up to make sure they stay on track.”

Slaats-Rowe and her team worked throughout the school year to prepare for the Text Steps launch this summer. Counselors from the high school partnered with center advisors from the LaCrosse Promise program to set up the summer hours necessary to successfully run Text Steps. They are looking forward to examining data on students who said they wanted to go to college, and who actually attend.

Students are engaging with Text Steps in the Green Bay Area Public School District as well. Laura Siemering, a school counselor at East High School, was part of the planning to ensure success with the program.

“Since we launched Text Steps, we have received hundreds of responses from seniors. They appreciate the text messages and have asked a lot of great questions,” she said.

With the grant funding from Ascendium, the Green Bay Area Public School District hired four more counselors to support the summer program, which has benefitted participating students. “When logging into the portal to view the messages going in and out between students and the Text Steps counselors, it is very clear that students are utilizing the program and getting their questions answered before they dive into post-secondary,” Siemering said.

Smaller school districts like the School District of Monroe and the Unified School District of Antigo are finding similar success.

“Right now, we have 61 students participating, and the overall engagement rate is 50%, which is considered very good,” said Lisa Davis, a counselor at Monroe High School. When Davis learned they received the grant, they created a senior exit survey with guiding questions from Ascendium to gather information from students. The survey was sent via email, paired with a short video Davis created describing the survey, its purpose, and what the Text Steps program could do for students. Teachers showed the video during homeroom or built-in flex-time to make sure students understood the purpose of the survey. Davis believes this is part of the reason why they have such a great turnout.

“I’m learning a lot from our students,” Davis said. “This school year will be the start of my 14th year, and this method of communicating is amazing. We have to meet them where they are at.”

That sentiment resonates in Antigo as well. “This messaging system has become a platform for our students to reach out to us with their questions,” said Bree Kratz, a high school counselor. “ A lot of students are asking for their transcripts, or how to obtain the funds from the scholarships they received. Engagement with our students at this point is them reaching out to us first. It's great to see that this has been a helpful tool for them.”

Wisconsin districts currently participating in Text Steps:

  • Adams-Friendship Area School District
  • Unified School District of Antigo
  • School District of Fort Atkinson
  • Green Bay Area Public School District
  • School District of La Crosse
  • School District of Monroe
  • Racine Unified School District
  • Sheboygan Area School District
  • St. Francis School District
  • School District of South Milwaukee
  • Watertown Unified School District
  • West Allis-West Milwaukee School District
  • Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools