Panel Paper: When “Low Touch” Is Not Enough: Evidence from a Random Assignment College Access Field Experiment

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Meredith Phillips and Sarah Reber, University of California, Los Angeles

Despite large and growing returns to attending college, youth from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds continue to attend college at lower rates than their more-advantaged peers. This gap is not fully explained by differences in academic preparation, and college enrollment and completion appear to have become more dependent on family income in recent decades. This paper reports the results of a randomized field trial of the effects of two variants of V-SOURCE, a college-counseling intervention designed to address informational and social support barriers to college enrollment, as well as students’ tendency to forget or procrastinate about deadlines. V-SOURCE served students from the spring of the junior year through the summer after high school graduation. The program was delivered “virtually” making it relatively low-cost and easy to scale. We find that students took advantage of V-SOURCE services and found them helpful, and that the program had modest effects on the college application process, including the application portfolio. The program did not improve college enrollment outcomes on average, though we find some evidence of benefits for Hispanic students who spoke Spanish at home. While some low-touch interventions have improved college enrollment outcomes in other studies, these effects may be dependent on the population served and context of the study, and our study suggests targeting college application support to students who can benefit most may be difficult.