Panel Paper: Implementation of Nudging to STEM Success

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lisa Soricone1, Barbara Endel1, Cecilia Le2 and Serena Crain2, (1)Jobs for the Future, (2)Persistence Plus

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields offer well-paying careers without requiring a four-year degree. Community colleges provide STEM education to more than 275,000 students annually (Van Noy & Zeidenberg, 2014), yet many STEM students face multiple academic and personal challenges that can impede their ability to persist and complete the credentials required to access opportunity. Persistence Plus, a Boston-based company, has drawn on behavioral science to develop a mobile platform for nudging students to achieve success in community college. Nudges are delivered through an intelligent texting software that reacts to real-time student responses, providing students with differentiated support delivered at scale. Nudges are designed to help students develop the mindsets and behaviors required to navigate and remain on a path to completion. In addition, the interactive nature of the texting intervention provides feedback and insight to colleges regarding the student college experience.

Jobs for the Future, a non-profit organization that works to promote the economic mobility of youth and adults, partnered with Persistence Plus to launch the Nudging to STEM Success initiative in four community colleges in Ohio and Virginia. JFF helped to identify and recruit colleges and managed the initiative by supporting the colleges’ efforts and examining results. Persistence Plus worked with colleges to deliver the nudging intervention and analyze persistence data.

JFF conducted a qualitative inquiry to examine implementation and document results from the college perspective. Persistence Plus staff worked with colleges to analyze quantitative data on student persistence among students who participated in nudging and those who did not. In the first phase of the analysis, students were randomly assigned to nudging, and Persistence Plus compared results across student groups. In the second phase, students were provided the opportunity to opt out of nudging, and results were compared and tested for statistical significance.

Results demonstrated statistically significant differences between nudging and comparison groups. In the first phase of analysis, a randomized control trial involving over 2,700 students in the summer of 2017 found that nudges resulted in a 10 percentage point increase in persistence for nudging STEM students compared to a control group, a difference that was statistically significant. In the second phase, with full implementation of the nudging intervention to approximately 9,500 students across four colleges, 72 percent of nudging recipients persisted after their first semester of nudging, compared to 56 percent of those students who opted not to receive nudges. Among students of color, differences were even more notable: 62 percent of nudging recipients persisted, compared with 46 percent of those who opted out. Among students over 25, 64 percent of nudging recipients persisted, compared with 44 percent of those who opted out. Nudging also provided colleges with greater insights into student needs and issues, such as food insecurity, and suggested areas in which to improve supportive services.

Results suggest that behavioral nudging provided through texting can be an effective means to support community college student persistence and, furthermore, can support colleges in meeting their goals for achieving equitable outcomes for all student groups.

Full Paper: