Students will participate in campus emergency notification systems-- you just need to make it mandatory.

Let Me Do It!

Geoffrey H. FletcherPeople are always looking for incentives to do something that's not at the top of their pleasure list, whether it's to join a gym to lose weight or make a bet with a fellow smoker on who can quit first. Yet, incentives were not the first choice of college students surveyed by CDW-G in the spring of 2009 about how to get 100 percent participation in emergency notification systems associated with their college or university. The number one response from students was: "Make it mandatory."

This is but one of a number of interesting results from the report, "Potential Mass Notification Reach in Higher Education" (also see this month's Trendspotter). The student responses were particularly fascinating. Business has long known that one of the key factors in ensuring success is to listen to clients. Higher education is beginning to do a better job with that, as colleges and universities install CRM systems that track students from their first pre-admission inquiries through their lives as alumni (which we'll talk about in depth next month). The next step beyond tracking is to actually listen to the clients-- in this case, students-- not only to find out how satisfied they are with their experience, but also to find out how to make various systems more effective. And, what more important system is there than emergency notification, which could make a life-and-death difference in the event of a weather emergency or disaster such as a campus shooting?

So when students say, "Make me do it," we should pay attention. We should also listen to their other suggestions on how to guarantee 100 percent participation in these systems. Incentives certainly can play a role: Students said that providing an opportunity to win an iPod as a spur to sign up would be effective. They also offered blatantly obvious ideas like making sign-up a part of orientation.

Another common-sense idea was enlisting faculty to tell students about the emergency notification system during the first week of class. Providing faculty with core information about the system to impart to students would create a secondary benefit of ensuring the faculty are fully aware of the system themselves. According to the CDW-G survey, 13 percent of faculty reported that they did not know if their school had an emergency alert system in place. This is a significant contrast to the IT staff, only 6 percent of whom were unaware of their school's alert system.

Students also thought their peers would be motivated to sign up if they knew that alert systems would inform them when classes are cancelled due to weather. Apparently the desire to sleep in during a snow day is more powerful than the threat of a disaster.

The folks who did the survey proposed that colleges assess how parents will get information in a crisis, and then leverage parents to improve signup. College students may not respond very well to parental pressure, but they still are subject to the one thing parents can dish out better than anyone-- guilt. That's one way to make 'em do it!

-- Geoff Fletcher, Editorial Director

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About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

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