Panel Paper: College Transition Messaging in Gear up: Impacts on College Enrollment

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 11 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Tamara Linkow1, Amanda Parsad1, Hannah Miller1 and Alina Martinez2, (1)Abt Associates, Inc., (2)Mathematica

Many high school seniors who plan to enroll in college do not do so. This phenomenon—known as summer melt—is particularly acute for low-income and first generation students, who may lack access to the information and support they need to follow through and enroll in college once they leave high school. Once at college, advisor to student ratios can be as high as 1 advisor to 260 students at four-year institutions. College supports may be insufficient to keep low-income and first generation students enrolled through the first year and beyond. During these times, limited connections to advisors, lack of information about college enrollment milestones, procrastination, and concerns about falling short and fitting in at college are real barriers to enrolling in and staying in college.

In an effort to provide more support to students as they transition to college, leaders from the U.S. Department of Education’s Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) committed to testing a text messaging strategy for supporting students during the critical transition from high school through the first year of college. Eighty-one high schools across the country volunteered to test whether or not text message-based advising could improve college enrollment rates. About 4,800 college-intending students in these GEAR UP high schools were to randomly assigned to either get advising through text messages in the summer before and during their first year of college in addition to regular GEAR UP services or to receive only regular GEAR UP services. This study will compare the college enrollment rates of students with and without access to text message-based advising to understand impacts on immediate and continuous enrollment. Results will be available this summer.

A growing body of research provides promising evidence that access to information, psychological support, behavioral prompts, and logistical guidance can be effective in increasing the enrollment and persistence rates of low-income students; however, text message-based advising that incorporates targeted supports across these areas has yet to be tested. This study expands on prior studies examining the combination of summer and school year text message-based advising through the first year of college on a large scale in multiple locations across the country.