College Persistence Rates Increase With Text Nudges

by Paige Roosien | June 4, 2018
College Persistence Rates Increase With Text Nudges

The end of the school year is here and it's a natural time to think about college persistence rates. While colleges are rightfully focused on recruiting new students during the summer months, it’s just as important to retain existing students to the fall semester. There are many factors affecting these retention rates. Luckily, we have research that shows how to make that happen.

Texting nudges increase college persistence rates

One tool that we know can increase college persistence rates is text messaging through the Signal Vine platform. Benjamin L. Castleman and Lindsay C. Page partnered with Signal Vine to test the impact of a texting intervention on renewing the FAFSA. Students who don't renew their FAFSA each year are more likely to drop out of college. Disturbingly, many students do not file the FAFSA after their first year of college. This is particularly a problem in community colleges. Community college students who had a successful first year and earned a high grade point average were three times less likely to file the FAFSA again for their sophomore year when compared to their counterparts at four-year institutions

One main reason why this challenge is unique to community college students is that they often spend less time on campus. Further, they tend to receive less individualized advising than students at four-year institutions. Another reason is that community college students are more likely to work long hours aside from their education. This made texting a prime way to reach these students who were often off-campus.

With these persisting challenges, the research project was designed to test whether nudging community college students about FAFSA renewal would increase persistence. 

Research project

While working with uAspire, the researchers sent text message nudges to college freshmen in Massachusetts. The nudges included information concerning

  1. where to get help with financial aid,
  2. important deadlines and requirements, and
  3. how to interpret financial aid award letters.

Staff sent text messages similar to the following:

“Hi John. Need financial help as you return to Awesome College this semester? Call your fin aid office for support at 999-999-9999”


As a result, community college freshmen who received these nudges were 12 percentage points more likely to enroll and stay enrolled in their second year of college. These same students were nearly 14 percentage points more likely to continue to the spring semester of their sophomore year. Clearly, students who receive text nudges to complete financial aid forms are on the right track.

college persistence ratesWe have seen similar results across other organizations and institutions. For example, students in Delaware and Texas who received text messages around FAFSA deadlines were more likely to matriculate to college on time. Text message nudges are proving to be an incredibly effective way to communicate with students.

See the full research

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