January 29, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions

How can behavioral science help college students graduate?

There are many reasons students leave college, but some of the most significant factors are psychological: students feel disengaged, confused or overwhelmed and have not yet developed the academic mindsets and behaviors for college success. We take the concept of the nudge—the idea that the right message at the right time can motivate people to make decisions that lead to success—and apply it to higher education. Our messages, based on rigorous interventions, help students to build a growth mindset, develop a sense of belonging in college and seek help when they need it.

What are some examples of how you nudge students?

To help students follow through on academic goals, we prompt them to form plans that include specific details of when and where they will take an action such as studying or visiting office hours. These “implementation intentions” have been shown to increase the likelihood that people get a flu vaccine or vote in an election. Knowing that peers’ behavior has a strong influence in areas such as energy conservation, we create social norms around behaviors like going to tutoring and completing financial aid forms. And building on research showing that reframing adversity as common and transient leads to improved academic and health outcomes—especially for African-American students—we help students perceive their setbacks as common stumbles on the way to a degree.

What results has Persistence Plus seen?

Our nudging model is increasing college persistence, especially for those least likely to complete. At Middlesex Community College, students receiving the messages continued on to the next semester at a rate 7 percentage points higher than the overall cohort. At University of Washington-Tacoma, freshman fall-to-fall persistence increased 6 percentage points in 2015 after implementing Persistence Plus with all entering students. Randomized trials with partners have shown a significant impact on persistence for first-generation college goers, online learners and returning adults.

Do students like getting these messages?

Yes! In focus groups and interviews, students overwhelmingly report finding the messages useful. In their words, the service “made me feel more like there was someone at school who maybe cares,” “was a good push that kept me motivated,” and “always prompts me to think about my goals.”

What types of colleges and organizations does Persistence Plus partner with?

We work with community colleges, four-year colleges, online institutions, and college access organizations to support thousands of students. Some of our partners include University of Washington-Tacoma, Middlesex Community College, Johnson C. Smith University, and SEO Scholars.

Are the messages students receive personalized?

Yes. Students get nudges that are personalized for their college campus, their student profile, and the real-time responses they give about their experiences, goals, and challenges.

What do faculty and staff need to do?

Our partnerships provide the best of both worlds – a student experience personalized for students and their college, with minimal work required of faculty or staff. Prior to launch, we spend time getting to know you and your campus, and we’ll stay in touch to report on student engagement and impact. Faculty or staff do not need to text students or input grades or other student information.