TMCnet Feature
October 13, 2020

TrueDialog Explains How Colleges Can Comply With the TCPA When Texting Students



Follow TCPA regulations to avoid legal disputes surrounding SMS strategy.

Virtually all colleges make use of text messaging systems to keep students informed, so higher education institutions need to understand the regulations that they must follow when messaging students. As leaders in SMS communications for higher education institutions, TrueDialog has broken down the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to avoid confusion about text messaging compliance. 



The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (1991)

The TCPA allows individuals to file lawsuits for unsolicited calls and controls how telemarketers contact consumers. Over the last two decades, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has amended the regulations to expand consumer rights in line with evolving technology. 

In 2003, the FCC (News - Alert) added a “Do Not Call Registry” clause to the act so that consumers can opt out of telemarketing calls. Second, in 2012, the FCC implemented “Robocall Restrictions,” which require telemarketers to obtain consent before robocalling. The regulation also requires telemarketers to provide an opt-out mechanism during calls. Then, in 2015, the FCC made text messages subject to TCPA regulations.

Though the TCPA doesn’t technically apply to non-profit organizations such as educational institutions, sending texts to students that could be considered promotional might still breach the regulations. Claimants can recover at least $500 to compensate for each text and call in violation of the regulations. 

At the simplest level, your higher education establishment can avoid legal risks by obtaining consent from all students before sending texts.

Types of SMS Messages

There are four types of text messages: marketing, informational, hybrid, and emergency. TCPA regulations vary depending on the type of SMS message that you’re sending, so it’s important to categorize your text messages correctly. 

Marketing Texts

Marketing texts promote products, goods, or services. While some marketing texts are clearly promotional, such as messages offering discount codes, others aren’t so clear cut. For example, a text asking prospective students to schedule a campus tour could be considered a marketing text. If you’re in any doubt as to whether your message could be considered promotional, it’s safest to follow the marketing message regulations. 

These regulations require you to:

  • Obtain explicit written consent in line with the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act before you can send marketing texts. A student can submit their consent through a web form or by texting a keyword to an SMS short code. 
  • Offer plain, conspicuous opt-in forms with no pre-checked boxes. 
  • Ensure that all sign-ups for marketing messages are voluntary; you can’t make an opt-in a condition of a sale. 
  • Disclose your intent to send marketing messages in the opt-in details.

Once a student has opted in to your marketing communications, the first message that your higher education institution sends should include the sender’s name, disclose potential carrier fees, state the frequency of messages that the recipient can expect, and provide short codes for help and opt-outs.

Informational Texts

Informational texts convey information about products, goods, or services. Education establishments tend to send these to remind students of meetings and deadlines. 

You need prior consent to send informational texts. However, the regulations surrounding informational texts aren’t as strict as those for marketing texts. Education establishments can send autodialed informational messages to any student who has voluntarily disclosed their phone number to the institution. 

Though the TCPA doesn’t require senders to follow up informational text opt-ins with a message detailing how to request help or opt-out, doing so is considered good practice.

Hybrid Texts

Hybrid texts combine marketing and informational messages. These dual-purpose texts inform students of updates and tie in an offer. For example, a college might text a student to let them know that their textbook order has been shipped and send a discount code for a future purchase. 

When sending a message that is both promotional and informational, be sure to follow the marketing regulations closely.

Emergency Texts

Emergency texts notify students about hazards and threats, such as extreme weather warnings. As long as you have the student’s telephone number on file, you don’t need to seek further consent to send emergency messages.

How to Maintain a Compliant Higher Education SMS System

The best way to stay compliant when texting students is to keep up-to-date opt-out records. The TCPA advises keeping opt-out records for at least four years to meet the standard statute of claim limitations. 

TrueDialog enables education institutions to monitor consent and opt-out requests easily. The SMS software also maintains duplicate opt-out data to prevent administrators from accidentally texting a contact who has opted out.

TrueDialog also recommends that higher education establishments stay compliant with TCPA regulations by adhering to a formal texting policy. A written policy helps administrators control when texts are sent, the language used in messages, and which administrators can send texts, all of which reduce the risk of violating TCPA regulations. 

Your higher education SMS policy should:

  • Define key terms so that administrators can categorize messages as marketing, informational, hybrid, or emergency.
  • Use text templates to ensure compliance and consistency. Templates reduce the risk of administrators forgetting to include important information, such as “standard text and data rates apply.”
  • Identify which administrators can send texts to control compliance and quality. You could also include a text-approval process in the policy.
  • Require opt-ins for marketing, informational, and hybrid texts. Though you aren’t legally obliged to obtain express consent to send students informational messages, this is expected practice. 

Alternatively, you can prohibit marketing texts to avoid TCPA altogether. In this case, it’s important to clearly define the texts that can be sent and include examples in the policy.

Launching Your Compliant SMS System

TrueDialog asserts that by asking permission before sending messages, clearly conveying your SMS agenda, and offering opt-out information, you can build a healthy, compliant communications system to reach out to students effectively. 

Sign up for a free trial of TrueDialog’s SMS solution at www.truedialog.com.



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