Panel Paper: College Advising at a National Scale: Experimental Evidence from the Collegepoint Initiative

Friday, November 4, 2016 : 11:15 AM
Columbia 4 (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Benjamin L. Castleman1, Eric Bettinger2 and Zach Sullivan1, (1)University of Virginia, (2)Stanford University

Federal and state governments administer a variety of social programs designed to expand access to resources and opportunities, particularly among economically-disadvantaged populations. Yet, even when the benefits of program participation appear to greatly exceed the time and effort costs necessary to enroll, take-up rates are often lower than expected. A growing body of behavioral science research demonstrates that complicated application processes and complex information embedded within social programs can deter individuals from pursuing beneficial opportunities.

In the context of postsecondary education, a variety of community-based organizations have arisen over the last decade to provide students with one college and financial aid advising. These programs typically assign students an individual advisor or coach, who works with them to identify well-matched colleges, prepare applications, and complete financial aid forms. Rigorous studies of intensive college advising programs demonstrate that they can generate substantial improvements in the rate at which low-income students enroll and persist in college (Avery, 2013; Barr and Castleman, 2016; Castleman and Goodman, 2015).

While these programs are successful at the community level, the individualized, in-person college advising model is hard to scale. One challenge is that there are many regions of the country where students are too geographically dispersed to warrant a community-based advising organization. This difficulty of extending evidence-based college advising programs beyond the level of local communities is relevant to other policy domains as well, where public assistance programs, such as financial planning or healthcare advising, may be hard to scale.

In this paper we report on CollegePoint, an innovative, national college advising initiative that leverages interactive technologies like text messaging, screen sharing, and document collaboration to remotely connect low-income students to one-on-one college advising. CollegePoint specifically targets high-achieving, lower-income students. Prior research demonstrates that, faced with the complexities of the college application process and lacking access to informed guidance, as many as half of these students do not apply to or attend colleges and universities that are well-matched to their academic abilities (Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson, 2009; Hoxby and Avery, 2012; Hoxby and Turner, 2013).

We worked with CollegePoint to conduct a randomized controlled trial with the high school classes of 2015 and 2016, in which students were randomly assigned to receive the offer of working with CollegePoint. The experimental sample consists of approximately 60,000 students over both cohorts. Our data consists of administrative data from The College Board and the National Student Clearinghouse on students’ college entrance exam taking, score sending, and college enrollment, and end of senior year surveys on students’ college and financial aid decision making and use of advising resources.

Our analyses to date indicate that CollegePoint advising substantially increases the share of students that re-take the SAT in the fall and substantially increases that share of students that apply to highly-selective colleges and universities. By the time of the APPAM conference we will also be able to incorporate college enrollment impacts for the class of 2015 as well as detailed analysis of the survey data for classes of 2015 and 2016.