Improving Utilization of Non-Tuition Supports to Promote Community College Retention and Completion
Non-tuition expenses, such as rent, food, transportation, and childcare, make up much of the cost of attending community college, and far too often community college students experiencing small shortfalls in meeting these expenses choose to leave their studies. To address this issue, colleges have begun to offer and expand non-tuition supports, such as food pantries and meal vouchers, emergency aid funds, and referral systems to homelessness service providers. However, these supports are often under-advertised and stigmatized. Consequently, a sizeable utilization gap exists between those students who could benefit from available nontuition supports and those students who take advantage of them.
This project builds on nascent efforts at a large urban community college system at a critical moment that includes high student attrition and low utilization rates of non-tuition supports. A cross-disciplinary research team led by members of the network's Completion Grants team in collaboration with members from the Growth Mindset team and Nudges to the Finish Line team is partnering with Dallas College to implement a text messaging-based intervention that seeks to connect students to non-tuition supports. The text messages in the intervention all provide information about available student supports, but a subset of the messages also incorporate encouraging or empowering language, which has been shown to improve student well-being and program utilization. Unlike conventional electronic outreach, the intervention is intentionally designed to reduce the stigma surrounding some non-tuition supports. The study also sets the stage for additional research examining effect heterogeneity and variability in responsiveness during difficult economic conditions.
Study period: 2020–22 (intervention: 2020–21; evaluation: 2021–22; deliverables: 2021–22)
This project is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305N170020-20A to Temple University.