Text Message ‘Nudges’ Can Help Prospective College Students

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

A West Virginia initiative has provided evidence to demonstrate the effect that text message nudges can have on academic outcomes in college, specially in relation to providing information for students whose background means they cannot afford professional personal advice on their path to higher education.

The investigation explored the association between a college text messaging campaign that provides lower-income college students in West Virginia with simplified information, access to personal advising, and encouragement, and the subsequent correlation with academic outcomes.

As per the report, theirs is the first study of a texting campaign in which colleges actively reached out to students via a lowtouch texting campaign.

The original version of the paper was published in 2015, with updates being added in April of this year.

According to the paper, an EdPolicyWorks, University of Virginia piece:

“Colleges have an important role to play in communicating information about academic expectations, support resources, and community norms”

The paper cites the fact that educators and policy makers have long invested great amounts of effort and resources to address inequalities associated with family income and geography; one figure being that 2-16 percent of students from rural areas are more likely than non-rural students to come from lower-income families and are less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.

However, according to the study, educators have traditionally “focused primarily on improving academic readiness and college affordability.” More recently though, it says, researchers have been investigating how informal barriers and behavioral obstacles affect socioeconomic and geographic disparities in college success.

One problem for students from lower income families highlighted by the report is that they often lack access to professional assistance to help with decisions like which college to apply to and what classes to enroll in. This also means that:

“Students living in rural areas are especially likely to “undermatch” to a less academically rigorous college than expected based on their prior academic performance – potentially because of a strong connection to family and hometown, but also possibly related to lack of information about academic options and/or access to one-on-one advising resources”

Although plenty of research has been done on how “sending high-achieving, low-income students semi-customized information” about colleges that may be a good match for them, and how this intervention has “led to substantial increases in college entry or persistence,” the North West Virginia report cites a lack of research on how similar interventions could help students once they are already matriculated and their college courses are under way.

Despite this, the report does mention two studies that have shown that nudges and advising through text messages improve persistence in college. The study, meanwhile, took this line of research further, with The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (WVHEPC) implementing a texting campaign during the second half of senior year in high school with messages focused mainly on financial aid applications and college choice.

The study found that students who received prompts from the campaign persistently attempted and completed more credits than their peers who did not. Moreover, low-income students were particularly receptive to the texting campaign.

The results, the paper says, are:

“Particularly salient as public colleges and universities across the country face a daunting challenge of supporting a growing population of non-traditional students with dwindling resources.”

Despite the updates to the study, the paper states that “there are [still] several outstanding analyses that [they] will conduct and report on in future versions of [the] paper” and that they will attain more information in the future, including detailed text messaging interaction data.