More Nudges for Student Success Move into the Field

Sep 24, 2014 | By ideas42 in Blog

Applying behavioral insights to postsecondary education

After a spring and summer spent building partnerships and gathering data, ideas42 is excited to be rolling out a series of nudges in postsecondary education that focus on the financial aid system. Our initiative “Nudging for Success: Breaking Behavioral Barriers in the Financial Aid System,” supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, explores how behaviorally informed interventions in the federal financial aid system can help to improve college access, degree completion, and loan repayment.

The projects we’re working on include:

Helping students choose classes that count towards their degree.
In recent years, leading academics have argued that a lack of structure in course choice architecture at community colleges causes students to take unnecessary credits that ultimately hurt them financially and delay college completion. To pilot solutions to these challenges, ideas42 is working with Valencia College to nudge students to select classes that contribute to their major and are eligible to be paid for by financial aid.

Helping students use their aid refunds to meet financial needs over the course of the semester.
For a long time, policy-makers and practitioners have been concerned about how student aid refunds are disbursed and how students use them to pay for college and related expenses. Research suggests that people have more difficulty controlling spending when they receive income in large, un-partitioned amounts. In our second project at Valencia College, ideas42 is piloting new ideas for helping students use their refund dollars to meet their most pressing financial needs.

Helping students devote enough time to studying.
At the core of the national college completion agenda is the challenge of student academic success, highlighted in part by many students’ failure to achieve Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), part of the eligibility criteria to receive federal financial aid. Some of the problem may lie in how community college students balance demands on their time; far from the “traditional” model of campus-based student life, these students are often forced to carve out time to study between shifts at work, caring for their family, and managing other obligations. ideas42 is working with the Community College of Philadelphia to help students study productively so they are more likely to meet SAP requirements and stay eligible for financial aid.

Encouraging students to take advantage of academic support services.
Despite the availability of academic support resources like tutoring, many struggling students don’t take up these services. This may end up with students failing to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) standards. ideas42 is working with West Kentucky Community & Technical College to nudge more students towards taking up academic support services.

Encouraging delinquent student borrowers to take advantage of default avoidance programs.
Within the broad challenge of student loan repayment, the specific problem of delinquent borrowers failing to apply for loan relief options – despite this usually being in their own best interest – has remained puzzling. ideas42 is partnering with Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation to help borrowers avoid extended delinquency by taking up the options they are offered to match their specific situation.

In addition to these exciting projects, we’re working with four teams of academic researchers on related projects and continuing to explore opportunities to nudge for student success with other postsecondary education partners. Stay tuned for more details about these projects later this year, and look out for our results in late 2015/early 2016 as we implement and rigorously test our designs through randomized controlled trials.

To learn more, check out our other partnerships in postsecondary education and our White Paper about using behavioral economics for postsecondary success.