Nudges to the Finish Line: Experimental Interventions to Prevent Late College Departure
Recent evidence suggests that many college students who withdraw from open- and broad-access institutions complete most of the credits they need to graduate before dropping out. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether low-cost, behaviorally informed nudges that provide personalized information to students about how they can finish their degrees can improve college completion rates.
The study targets students who have completed at least half the credits required to graduate. Students in the study receive personalized text messages that provide guidance about courses they must complete to finish their programs, prompts to help them plan and execute the steps to earn their degrees, and information to encourage the use of campus-based resources. In some partner sites, students also have access to dedicated mobile advisors who provide further customized support.
The study partnership includes City University of New York, Ohio University, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, University of Washington–Tacoma, and Virginia Community College System. These partners represent a range of institution types, student groups, and geographic contexts.
The Development phase, which targeted approximately 4,000 students at 8 broad-access institutions, tested whether different profiles of students appeared to benefit more from the intervention based on their incoming risk of dropping out. This phase found that students receiving the intervention exhibited lower fall-to-spring dropout rates, with students at above-average risk of dropping out benefitting the most. The ongoing Efficacy phase targets more than 15,000 students at 20 broad-access institutions. This phase is examining whether the scale phase intervention has a deferential impact on students' academic progress as a function of their initial risk level of dropping out.
Study period: 2016–20 (development phase and pilot: 2016–17; efficacy phase: 2017–19; evaluation and dissemination: 2020)
This project is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305N160025 to the University of Virginia.