ideas42 Tackles America’s College Completion Crisis

New report outlines suite of easy-to-implement, cost-effective behavioral innovations that can help students earn degrees and start a path to economic security

June 22, 2016, New York—A groundbreaking report published today by ideas42 reveals several innovations that college administrators and policymakers can leverage to significantly improve college graduation rates at a time where completion is more out of reach than ever for millions of students.

The student path through college to graduation day is strewn with subtle, often invisible barriers that, over time, hinder students’ progress and cause some of them to drop out entirely. In Nudging for Success: Using Behavioral Science to Improve the Postsecondary Student Journey, ideas42 focuses on simple, low-cost ways to combat these unintentional obstacles and support student persistence and success at every stage in the college experience, from pre-admission to post-graduation. Teams worked with students, faculty and administrators at colleges around the country.

Even for students whose tuition is covered by financial aid, whose academic preparation is exemplary, and who are able to commit themselves full-time to their education, the subtle logistical and psychological sticking points can have a huge impact on their ability to persist and fully reap the benefits of a higher education.

Less than 60% of full-time students graduate from four-year colleges within six years, and less than 30% graduate from community colleges within three years. There are a myriad of factors often cited as deterrents to finishing school, such as the cost of tuition or the need to juggle family and work obligations, but behavioral science and the results of this report demonstrate that lesser-known dynamics like self-perception are also at play.

From increasing financial aid filing to fostering positive friend groups and a sense of belonging on campus, the 16 behavioral solutions outlined in Nudging for Success represent the potential for significant impact on the student experience and persistence. At Arizona State University, sending behaviorally-designed email reminders to students and parents about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) priority deadline increased submissions by 72% and led to an increase in grant awards. Freshman retention among low-income, first generation, under-represented or other students most at risk of dropping out increased by 10% at San Francisco State University with the use of a testimonial video, self-affirming exercises, and monthly messaging aimed at first-time students.

“This evidence demonstrates how behavioral science can be the key to uplifting millions of Americans through education,” said Alissa Fishbane, Managing Director at ideas42. “By approaching the completion crisis from the whole experience of students themselves, administrators and policymakers have the opportunity to reduce the number of students who start, but do not finish, college—students who take on the financial burden of tuition but miss out on the substantial benefits of earning a degree.”

The results of this work drive home the importance of examining the college experience from the student perspective and through the lens of human behavior. College administrators and policymakers can replicate these gains at institutions across the country to make it simpler for students to complete the degree they started in ways that are often easier and less expensive to implement than existing alternatives—paving the way to stronger economic futures for millions of Americans.

Made possible with generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Citi Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and The Kresge Foundation, Nudging For Success also includes partnerships with top academics.

The following institutions worked with ideas42: Arizona State University; The College at Brockport, State University of New York; Community College of Baltimore County; Community College of Philadelphia; Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation; LaGuardia Community College; San Francisco State University; San Jose Unified School District; Sinclair Community College; Valencia College; West Kentucky Community & Technical College; and Youth Policy Institute.



About ideas42

ideas42 has a clear mission: to use our unique experience as a nonprofit at the forefront of behavioral science to change millions of lives. We create innovative solutions to tough problems in economic mobility, health, education, consumer finance, energy efficiency and international development. Our approach is based on a deep understanding of human behavior and why people make the decisions they do. Working closely with our partners from government, foundations, NGOs and companies, we have more than 80 active projects in the United States and around the world.

Media Contact:

Andy Plews

Mitra Salasel