Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel: Knowing When to Nudge: Behavioral Strategies to Improve Educational Outcomes

Thursday, November 12, 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Tequesta (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Benjamin L. Castleman, University of Virginia
Panel Chairs:  Benjamin L. Castleman, University of Virginia
Discussants:  Lesley Turner, University of Maryland and Andrew Barr, University of Virginia

Curbing Adult Student Attrition: Evidence from a Field Experiment
Raj Chande, UK Behavioural Insights Team and Michael Luca, Harvard University

Policymakers have invested substantial resources over the last several decades to improve educational outcomes for economically-disadvantaged students, yet substantial disparities in educational access and achievement remain. The stubbornness of these inequalities in the face of concerted policy efforts is at first glance quite perplexing. Many communities have greatly expanded school choice, yet families often choose to remain in failing schools. The federal government has substantially increased the size of the Pell Grant, yet many students who plan to go to college and who would be eligible for aid do not apply. Why have these policies not had a greater impact? What policymakers have frequently overlooked is that the way programs and policies are communicated to and enroll students often has as much—if not more—impact as the intervention itself on whether people participate. The purpose of this panel is to apply insights from the emerging science of decision-making to identify innovative strategies for improving educational outcomes for economically-disadvantaged students. The papers on the panel utilize experimental or quasi-experimental methods to evaluate the impact of these behavioral interventions on students’ academic outcomes. In “Support at Every Step: The Role of Text Messaging and Individualized Assistance on West Virginia GEAR UP Students’ College Enrollment and Persistence,” the authors report on a text messaging intervention to assist rural, low-income students to matriculate and persist in college. The messages began during students’ senior year of high school and continued through freshman year of college, successfully transitioning student mentorship from high school counselors to college administrators. The authors report on the impact of the intervention on college application behaviors, enrollment choices, and academic performance in college. In “Scaling Success: Social Belonging and Values Affirmation Increase Postsecondary Persistence”, the authors report on the effects of an intervention designed to increase first-year persistence at a large urban public university in California by reframing the norms and narratives surrounding a student’s first year. The intervention consisted of three components: 1) a short video that depicted current students and alumni discussing the challenges they had faced as new students; 2) a brief questionnaire designed to reinforce the message of the video intervention; and 3) follow-up email and text messaging, including reminders of key deadlines and values affirmations. The authors report on the effect of the intervention on students’ academic outcomes. In “Parent Adoption of School Communications Technology: A 12-School Experiment of Default Enrollment Policies,” the authors investigate the impact of sending parents automated-text-message alerts about their child's missing assignments, grades and absences. The authors examine how parents having to opt in or out of the texts affects their participation and students’ achievement. Finally, in “Curbing adult student attrition: Evidence from a field experiment,” the authors report on a large-scale field experiment in which they sent encouraging text messages to adult students to stay engaged in adult education courses. The authors report on the impact of these texts on students’ attendance and performance in the course.
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