Panel Paper: Realizing Your College Potential? Impacts of College Board’s Realize Your College Potential Campaign on Postsecondary Enrollment

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8212 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jessica Howell1, Oded Gurantz2, Michael Drew Hurwitz1 and Matea Pender1, (1)The College Board, (2)Stanford University

How can we help young adults make the best decision about where to attend college? Research has reaffirmed the importance of the college-going decision (Goodman, Hurwitz, & Smith, 2017; Zimmerman, 2014), yet in practice students typically rely on the knowledge and support from their family, peers, school, and community. Given disparities across communities in access to the type of information needed for this decision, providing better and targeted resources could ameliorate inequality typically observed by income and ethnicity. For example, low-income or first-generation students might eliminate high-quality but nominally expensive colleges because they focus on sticker price at the expense of net price, or may choose geographically proximate but lower quality options that can negatively impact degree completion.

The College Board tested whether minimizing barriers to the college search and application process altered students’ application or enrollment patterns. After two pilot years, in 2016 we selected over 500,000 middle- to high-performing students who were determined to be low- or middle-income. We provided visually attractive and easily digestible information on a set of good academic fit colleges, to minimize the costs of aggregating data and to provide an impetus to the start of the college search process. Although providing information should theoretically help students navigate complex decisions, empirical efforts is mixed, with stronger impacts for interventions linking information with administrative support (Bergman, Denning, & Manoli, forthcoming; Darolia & Harper, 2018; Finkelstein & Notowidigdo, 2018; Hoxby & Turner, 2013; Marx & Turner, 2018). We then supplement these information interventions by randomly assigning some students to receive additional supports: free “score sends” for sending SAT results to more selective colleges; opportunities for selective colleges to provide additional outreach; opportunities for adviser support through text-messaging or virtual advising initiatives, and; application fee waivers to selected colleges.

Overall, we find little to no impact of the outreach campaigns on students’ college enrollment patterns. Information only initiatives consistently produced precisely estimated and statistically insignificant results close to zero. Providing additional products encouraged students to increase the selectivity of where they shared their SAT scores, but were not large enough to change enrollment outcomes. More intensive interventions, such as text-message advising or college outreach, show stronger evidence of positive effects, and partnerships between the College Board and external service providers have increased as a result.

We discuss a number of potential reasons that our campaigns produced only minimal impacts. Patterns over time suggest that low-income, high-performing students have closed historical gaps in their application patterns that put them at a disadvantage against their higher income peers, perhaps as a result of national-level conversations and local campaigns to improve application rates. The college enrollment process is also different than many other initiatives, such as inducing individuals to sign up for loans or grants, as it requires not just student initiative but corresponding actions on the part of receiving colleges to accept these students; without this complementary action, impacts will continue to be minimal.