GEAR UP Kentucky Sent 105,000+ Texts to Students’ Families Within a Year

How a federal grant program leverages Modern Campus Message to reduce Summer Melt and connect with its hardest-to-reach audience: parents and guardians

About GEAR UP Kentucky

GEAR UP (an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a competitive federal grant program administered by the Department of Education. It was founded by the United States Congress in 1998 to increase the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

GEAR UP Kentucky (GUK) strives toward this mission for its state by providing services to middle and high school students in 12 school districts. Additionally, GUK supports the success of first-year college students at nine public colleges and universities through its GEAR UP Scholars program.

in this case study: Missy Brownson Ross, Associate Director of  Communications & Outreach and Dr. Cody Davidson, Associate Director of  Evaluation and Reporting

Modern Campus Message is extremely valuable to our work. We're trying to ensure that our students’ families are educated and empowered. We want them to be our partners in helping their students transition successfully from high school to post-secondary education. So sending out consistent messaging and frequently connecting with parents is huge for our mission.

Missy Brownson Ross

The Challenge

For GEAR UP Kentucky, connecting with students’ families isn’t just a nice-to-have, complementary service; families are key partners in each student’s development and, thus, connecting with them is crucial to GUK’s mission.

But reaching parents and guardians has been a constant challenge. Emails often get lost in inboxes, physical addresses change and phone calls are left unanswered. 

I think any school or any program at a postsecondary institution, including GEAR UP programs across the nation, will probably say that connecting with families is one of the most difficult tasks. And this particularly became an issue when the pandemic struck because any family events we were doing before then were in person.

Missy Brownson Ross

The Solution & Result

For GEAR UP Kentucky, connecting with students’ families isn’t just a nice-to-have, complementary service; families are key partners in each student’s development and, thus, connecting with them is crucial to GUK’s mission.

But reaching parents and guardians has been a constant challenge. Emails often get lost in inboxes, physical addresses change and phone calls are left unanswered. 

Fortunately, GUK has a vital tool in its communication arsenal, allowing them to connect with more families—and, in doing so, increase FAFSA completions, reduce Summer Melt and help students successfully transition to their first year of postsecondary education. 

Here are the top ways GUK has leveraged Modern Campus Message two-way conversational text messaging. 

Personalized Messages Involve Parents in Advising Conversations

Through texting, GUK is able to involve parents and guardians in topics that students discuss with their high school and higher ed advisors. 

Missy Brownson Ross, Associate Director of Communications & Outreach, designs text campaigns aligned with the academic calendar—such as holiday messages, resources related to course registration and final exams, and invites to in-person or virtual events. 

I have a lot of expressions of gratitude from parents and guardians that texting has helped them through the process of transitioning their students into college. It helps family members feel more comfortable about their student being in post-secondary education.

Missy Brownson Ross

Nudges about FAFSA Support On-Time Completion

Before students matriculate into college, GUK helps them garner financial resources by texting students and families reminders about starting and completing the FAFSA. GUK staff also use texting to encourage more students to meet with financial aid advisors for personalized support.

We send out messages to our 12th-grade students and their parents or guardians during our FAFSA Frenzy campaign in October and November. We encourage them to complete the FAFSA and to see their GEAR UP Kentucky advisor for help. So we are able to hit it in two different areas—not only with the students but with the person who is influencing them greatly.

Missy Brownson Ross

Targeted Outreach Reduces Summer Melt

Texting is really our key strategy for combating Summer Melt.

Missy Brownson Ross

The summer after 12th grade, GUK sends targeted texts to students and families, based on the students’ fall plans. 

Students who intend to enroll at one of GUK’s partner universities and colleges, known as GEAR UP Scholars, are introduced to the GEAR UP staff at their new campuses. 

Family members of high school graduates who are unsure of their postsecondary plans, AKA exploratory students, are texted personalized ideas for next steps. GUK staff will encourage these students and families to still consider post-secondary options, such as short-term certificates and online programs. 

Through texting, GUK is able to gently encourage students to continue their education and provide families with suggestions for overcoming barriers to matriculation. 

Message Keeps GUK Parents Aware of Live Events

Message also enables GEAR UP Kentucky to stay in touch with families during their residential college readiness programs, called Summer Academies, hosted on partner college campuses. Through texting, the central office or individual school staff have been able to quickly reach families about time-sensitive, need-to-know information, including a COVID outbreak.

If we didn't have Message, I don't know what we would do. It enables us to keep families apprised of any kinds of issues that may be going on. We can reach out quickly and directly, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback that family members appreciate us being in contact so frequently and so readily.

Missy Brownson Ross

Comprehensive Data & Analytics Enable Easy Reporting

Signal Vine has proved crucial to GEAR UP Kentucky in meeting its federal reporting requirements. 

Dr. Cody Davidson, Associate Director of Evaluation & Reporting, would otherwise have to devote dozens of hours with his team to gathering, calculating and summarizing data related to their text campaigns. But Signal Vine’s robust data and analytics dashboard does the bulk of the work for them!

Having the Signal Vine platform send data files that we can load into a database and report out on—whenever we need or want it—that's a big advantage for us in terms of administering the grant.

Dr. Cody Davidson

Message Promotes Easy, Organized Collaboration Across Teams

Given that GUK staff serving high schools in 12 districts and at 9 partner postsecondary institutions, as well as central office staff, all have access to Message, it might seem all-too easy to overload students with too many texts.

But Signal Vine was designed to simplify communications across large teams! GUK’s central office staff coordinate streamlined text campaigns, thanks to a master calendar showing all of the messages each school has scheduled. Central staff can also send messages to all students within GUK (or to a specific demographic, such as all 12th graders), then turn over response duties to school staff. 

If I send out a message reminding students to complete their FAFSA, I might have a parent write back, ‘What do I need to do?’ Then our in-school staff will respond. They're able to connect with the family at that local basis.

Missy Brownson Ross

Modern Campus Message enables GUK’s diverse teams to work in concert, with central office leaders initiating messages to thousands of students and family members, and school staff chiming in with an extra personalized touch. 


Discover additional ways you can use text messaging to connect with parents and families, extend limited staff resources and set students up for higher ed success in our free guide:


How Text Messaging Supports Every Stage of the Higher Education Journey - download now


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