Texting Students Boosts College Enrollment, Achievement


Texting isn’t just a social activity — it has implications for education administration, as college enrollment increased by 3.1% when schools sent reminders to students to accept their college offers. According to Benjamin Castleman, about 3 in every 10 students in urban areas do not attend college because they fail to complete the administrative tasks to secure their position. In his new book, Castleman argues that ‘nudging’ can boost enrollment and even improve academic achievement.

Castleman, a University of Virginia education professor and author of The 160-Character Solution: How Text Messaging and Other Behavioral Strategies can Improve Education, says that reaching students through more personal communication channels like texting is more effective than emails and phone calls:

“I think what really differentiates text messaging is that at least for a moment in time … our phone will chirp, it will vibrate, we’ll look at it and for that moment, the text stands out on its own. That’s also unlike an email inbox or a Facebook newsfeed where there’s a lot of content,” said Castleman.

When Castleman was a high school administrator back in 2008, counselors sent out text messages to students inviting them to write back for any help. At that point, one in three students wasn’t going to enroll in college.

Through an automated personalized texting campaign, students intending to go to college were reminded of pre-matriculation tasks they had to complete in order to be able to attend school in the fall. The campaign resulted in college enrollment increased by 3.1% overall and 8.6% among low-income students.

College administrators nationwide now have the opportunity, thanks to new technologies, to send personalized and timely reminders to hundreds of students and then have their replies reach the appropriate staff.

A theory known as ‘nudging’, dubbed so by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, says that one can nudge or push individuals toward desired decisions. According to the Huffington Post, these nudges proved successful in retirement saving and financial aid experiments. In one initiative, 5,000 people responded to an email that informed them of their eligibility for a retirement savings program.

This personalized and low-cost texting approach can be implemented in criminal justice and the workplace in addition to throughout education, Castleman says.

“We as researchers, policymakers, I think can leverage contact information that we have or the ability to access different populations, whether in education, workforce development or criminal justice, and provide simplified information about available jobs, about available educational opportunities for people re-entering from the criminal justice system.”

Apart from its ability to urge students to act, Castleman also believes texting can boost student performance as well. Texting can personalize learning if executed in a well-planned, timely and relevant for the student manner, he says.

One of the findings he draws on to support his argument was an experiment in a middle and high school in Los Angeles where parents received texts regarding their children’s performance. The experiment helped increase homework completion among students by 25% and boosted student scores and grade point averages.