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Research: How to Increase National Enrollment with Text Nudges

by Jessica Perkins | April 25, 2017
Research: How to Increase National Enrollment with Text Nudges

Texting students in a school district or even across an entire state has an impact on student enrollment and college persistence. We've seen these results with many of our partners. But can you achieve similar results with a national campaign that texts hundreds of thousands of students across a variety of schools and backgrounds? Often, higher ed pros question how realistic it is to scale texting. They doubt how effective it could possibly be given the broad audience. Now, research confirms that not only is it possible, but it does increase enrollment - even at a national scale.

Recently, Kelli Bird, Ben Castleman, Josh Goodman, and Cait Lamberton released a working paper on how to increase national enrollment in order to confirm this theory.

The study tested three main types of interventions:

  1. A traditional campaign noting the financial benefits of FAFSA completion.
  2. A campaign of planning prompts to get students to set aside time to work on applications and financial aid forms.
  3. A campaign to nudge students by identifying them as motivated students.

Upon seeing the results, researchers note several key findings. First, the first two campaigns had no real impact on whether students applied to college. In contrast, the third campaign proved to have good results. In fact, text nudges that prompted students to complete certain tasks increased a student’s likelihood of enrolling in college by 1.1%. Moreover, first-gen students were nearly 2% more likely to enroll in college.

Study: Nudging at a National Scale

Research questions:

To begin, researchers noted two main questions they hoped to answer through their research:

  • Are good nudging outcomes possible at a national scale?
  • What specific mechanisms underlie these outcomes?

Outcomes measured:

Then, researchers chose to measure three outcomes:

  • Students' college application behavior through the common app.
  • Students' likelihood of enrolling in college.
  • The average costs of the colleges the students chose to enroll in.

Also, researchers tested 3 variations in nudge content:

  • The influence of stating the concrete financial benefits of FAFSA completion.
  • The impact of positive trait activation (nudge students by identifying them with motivated/successful students).
  • The effect of providing concrete planning prompts.

Results of the Nudges:

  • 1.1% of students were more likely to enroll in college.
  • Impact of nudges larger for first-gen students (1.7% increase in enrollment).
  • Additionally, concrete planning prompts are more effective than noting the usual human capital investments (emphasize financial benefits associated with FAFSA).

These results tell us that timely, personal nudges help students get to college. This research proves that these campaigns can even be scaled up to a national audience. Further, first-gen students see more of a benefit than other types of students. Evidently, when staff give students relevant, clear steps to complete, they take action. Even better, they enroll - and persist - in college.

To learn more, you can read the full research article here.

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