Over 21 million Americans enrolled in college in the fall of 2011. Six years later, only about 12.6 million had attained a degree. The current six-year drop out rate in U.S. colleges is 40%, according to the latest available data. At community colleges, the situation is even starker: under 40% earn a degree in six years. The question of how to improve this situation has plagued higher ed stakeholders and policymakers for decades. A joint initiative by JFF, Persistence Plus, and the Helmsley Charitable Trust managed to bump college persistence by over 10% among STEM students at four community colleges. They did it by sending students encouraging text messages, or ‘nudges,’ via an automated system.
The Nudging to Stem Success (NTSS) text messages were sent via an automated system that was tailored to the needs of each individual college. These texts not only sent students reminders, they also asked students questions, received responses, and carried on entire conversations.
A major concern with NTSS was that students might find it intrusive. Everyone was allowed to opt out of the initiative. Comparing those who decided to opt out versus those who participated, the researchers found further differences.
Just over half (56%) of those who opted out returned to college the next year, compared to 72% of those who kept the service. Among students of color, that figure was 46% (who opted out) versus 62% (who remained in). The effect was also held among students over 25, and remained present over three continuous semesters.