Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Derek Lane


Higher Education is at a critical juncture as both public and private institutions seek to attract, retain, and graduate students. Institutions of higher education have traditionally developed communication and engagement strategies that become part of early warning/alert systems intended to increase student positive academic behaviors and improve student success. Persuasion can be a powerful tool in improving communication—especially when persuasive messages are deployed within the complex and ever-changing media landscape. Communication and persuasion scholars, for example, have applied persuasive messaging interventions in a variety of contexts but have yet to substantially apply these persuasive tactics in a higher education setting. The current study seeks to overcome this deficit by applying Cialdini’s (2001) persuasion principles of consensus and authority, along with Kaptein’s (2009) susceptibility to persuasion construct, to determine whether higher education early alert systems can improve positive student academic behaviors. As such, the current study uses a 2 (susceptibility to persuasion) X 2 (message consensus) X 2 (message authority) factorial design to test whether the integration of persuasion principles into intervention messages improves the efficacy of an early alert intervention. A total of 622 undergraduate students were recruited in fall of 2020 from a research one university in the southeastern United States and completed an only survey. Results revealed two significant main effects: one for susceptibility to persuasion and a second for message authority. Individuals high on susceptibility to persuasion reported greater intentions to engage in positive academic behaviors. The second main effect revealed that individuals who received the high authority alert message expressed greater intentions to engage in positive academic behaviors. No significant main effect was reported for consensus messages. Likewise, no significant interaction effects were revealed for any of the three variables operating in tandem. Implications are discussed as they relate to higher education administrators who are considering new messaging strategies and tactics for improving undergraduate academic early alert systems before acknowledging limitations associated with the current study. This dissertation concludes with an exploration of future directions that involve additional persuasion principles (beyond authority and consensus) to determine how they might potentially improve persuasion attempts across contexts both inside and outside of higher education.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)