<<Text messaging is a promising approach to inform students of college-related tasks and to connect them to professional help when they need assistance. It is the predominant means by which young people communicate with each other. Whereas only six percent of teens exchange emails and 39 percent talk via mobile phones, 63 percent send texts on a daily basis (Lenhardt, 2012). Further, counselors who staffed the prior summer interventions cited texting as the most effective means of contacting students (Arnold et al, in progress). In addition, texting is a potentially cost-effective means to provide information and connect students to assistance. In the text message intervention discussed in this paper, for example, the marginal cost of each message was $0.01. Moreover, text-based outreach may increase counselors’ efficiency. >>
Research on Student Behavioral Challenges Related to Attending College
<< Recent behavioral research suggests that people often over-weight immediate costs, both monetary and non-monetary, and forego investments that would be in their long-term interest (see, for example, Chabris, Laibson, & Schuldt, 2008). Faced with the time and cognitive burdens associated with college and financial aid applications, for example, students may delay addressing or abandon a key step in the admissions process — particularly if the alternative is something more enticing in the present moment (Madrian & Shea, 2001; Beshears et al, 2012; Scott-Clayton, 2011). Thus, even minor cost and process barriers may deter qualified students from successfully applying to and enrolling in college, despite a high probability that the lifetime benefits of higher education would far outweigh short-term investments.
With a text platform, message delivery can be automated and content can be personalized to individual students and their postsecondary plans, Castleman – Summer Nudging EdPolicyWorks Working Paper Series No. 9. April 2013. Available at http://curry.virginia.edu/edpolicyworks/wp Curry School of Education | Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy | University of Virginia 7 eliminating the need for counselors to invest substantial time conducting student outreach and ensuring that outreach can occur on a schedule that aligns well with when students are available (e.g. nights and weekends).
Personalized text messages could improve successful matriculation among college-intending students via several potential mechanisms. As we note above, it may be an efficient strategy for connecting students to counselors who can assist them to address summer obstacles that arise. Enabling students to request assistance via text mitigates several potential barriers to help-seeking. For instance, in schools where counselors have large caseloads and minimal time to focus on college planning, students may lack personal relationships with counselors (Civic Enterprises, 2012).
Without a personal connection, students may be unlikely to initiate contact over the summer. In contrast, taking up the offer of help by responding to a text message may require considerably less interpersonal effort. Personalized text messages may also inform students of required tasks about which they were unaware and/or may simplify the steps required to complete these tasks.
With a modest investment of time to assemble the required tasks and deadlines for institutions most common among each partner district’s graduates, we consolidated the set of required summer tasks into a series of ten institution-specific text message reminders. Most of the messages included institution and task-specific web links that guide students directly to the web page relevant to a given task (e.g. registering for orientation).
Finally, the text messages may impact students’ college outcomes simply by nudging them to complete required tasks at the appropriate time during the summer. Personalized messaging effectively may turn adolescents’ greatest liability during the college choice process—their impulsiveness—into an asset.2
By providing simplified information and task-specific links, each message potentially allows completion of required steps in the moment, before students’ attention is otherwise diverted.
For several reasons, socioeconomically disadvantaged students may be particularly prone to behavioral challenges related to attending college.
- First, the intricacy of the college application process itself may contribute to the persistence of gaps in college entry and success by socioeconomic status (Hoxby & Turner, 2013, Ross et al., 2013).
- Second, the complexity of the federal financial aid application may prevent students from obtaining the substantial federal, state, and institutional grant aid for which they are eligible (Bettinger et al, 2012; Dynarski & Scott-Clayton, 2006). The process of applying for financial aid is often even more difficult for the lowest-income students, compared to their middle income peers, because atypical income streams and household circumstances often trigger additional financial-aid related tasks, such as federally-mandated verification of the information students provide on their FAFSA (authors). Therefore, in the process of applying to college, the lowest income students are required to complete a broader array of complex tasks, furthering the probability of behavioral responses that lead them to put off or abandon entirely college and financial aid applications.
- Third, students from disadvantaged backgrounds often have to devote their time and energy to addressing immediate stressors like supporting their families financially or dealing with neighborhood violence (Casey, Jones, & Somerville, 2011; Keating, 2004; Steinberg, 2008, 2009); the experience of dealing with scarcity on a daily basis may lead them to be particularly sensitive to incurring even seemingly small costs, such as those associated with college applications (Mullainathan & Shafir, 2013). Fourth, they are less likely to have access to college-educated family members or college counselors who can help them weigh short-term investments against long-term gains (authors; Schneider, 2009).