Promise and Pitfalls of Nudging Students Toward College Success
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
In today’s knowledge-based economy, disparities in college enrollment and completion rates for students of color and low-income students place them at a distinct disadvantage in the workforce because college education can be a gateway to the middle class for low-income students (e.g., Ayala and Striplen 2002; Haskins 2008; Pfeffer and Hertel 2015). A growing body of research provides promising evidence that access to information, psychological support, behavioral prompts, and logistical guidance can be effective in increasing college enrollment and persistence rates. “Nudging” through text message shows promise as a low-cost solution to help students overcome informational and behavioral hurdles along the path to college enrollment and persistence (e.g., Castleman and Page 2015; Castleman and Page 2016; Page, Castleman, and Meyer 2017). Yet, accumulating evidence suggests nudging interventions may not be a one size fits all solution. Context and content matter; some recent studies show that text message nudges and supports directed at college students might not be effective across a broad range of students and settings (Page, Castleman, and Meyer 2018; Castleman and Page 2016; Mabel, Castleman, & Bettinger 2017; Oreopoulos, Patterson, R., Petronijevic, and Pope, 2018; Oreopoulos and Petronijevic 2018).
These papers present evidence about nudging interventions focused on improving college enrollment and persistence to examine under what circumstances, in what settings and for whom might nudges be effective. The first paper uses a random assignment design to investigate the effectiveness of text message-based advising in the summer before and during the first year of college on students’ college enrollment and persistence rates. The study is broad in scale and scope, including over 4,000 students from over 80 high schools participating in the federal college access program GEAR UP. The second paper, also using a random assignment design, focuses on the impacts of a text message based college-counseling intervention, V-SOURCE, on high school students’ college enrollment rates. The third paper presents a comprehensive look at why a series of technology based supports, including text messages, did not measurably impact college students’ academic achievement and persistence. The fourth paper investigates the implementation of a mobile platform designed to nudge community college students to develop the mindsets and behaviors likely to lead to persistence. Looking across the papers in this panel will provide insights about the features of text message nudges likely to be most and least effective.