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, grounded in behavioral economics and social psychology, help students to build a growth mindset, develop a sense of belonging in college, follow through on their academic goals, and seek help when they need it. Our model puts support right in the hands of students, nudging them over text message as they navigate the path to graduation.

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?

Gold-standard experimental trials show that Persistence Plus is helping students stay in college and graduate. An Institute of Education Sciences study led by Dr. Benjamin Castleman of the University of Virginia found that Persistence Plus support increased fall-to-spring retention by almost 3 percentage points, and graduation rates among the most at-risk students by 6 percentage points. In another randomized study in collaboration with three community colleges, Persistence Plus nudges increased spring-to-fall retention for STEM students by 10 percentage points. The Persistence Plus model has had a significant impact on retention for student groups least likely to complete, including first-generation college goers, online learners, and working adults returning to college.

Do students like getting these messages?

Yes! In surveys 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, college access organizations, foundations, and workforce development partners to support tens of thousands of students.

Are the messages students receive personalized?

Yes. Students get conversational nudges that are personalized for their college campus, their student profile, and the real-time responses they share about their experiences, goals, and challenges in college. Our intelligent software ensures that students receive the support they need at scale.

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 trends and impact. Faculty or staff do not need to text students or input grades or other student information.