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IES Grant

Title: A Scalable Growth Mindset Intervention to Raise Achievement and Persistence in Community College
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Walton, Gregory Awardee: Stanford University
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (9/1/2015 – 8/31/2019) Award Amount: $3,410,421
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A150253

Co-Principal Investigators: Dweck, Carol; Dee, Thomas

Related Network Teams: College Completion Network Lead (R305N170003), Nudges to the Finish Line: Experimental Interventions to Prevent Late College Departure (R305N160026), The Men of Color College Achievement (MoCCA) Project (R0305N160025), Affording Degree Completion: A Study of Completion Grants at Accessible Public Universities (R305N170020), An Experimental Evaluation of Corequisite Developmental Education in Texas (R305H170085)

Purpose: In the study, the researchers aimed to evaluate whether a brief, psychological intervention that has raised challenge-seeking and achievement among students in secondary schools and some 4-year colleges can have similar benefit for students enrolled in community college. This intervention aims to instill a "growth mindset" (i.e., the belief that intelligence is something a person can develop through practice) because this mindset has been shown to correlate with supportive academic behaviors (e.g., seeking help, studying) and to increase student resilience and persistence. The researchers also sought to leverage the student and institutional diversity of our sample to explain which groups benefitted or were negatively affected by the intervention. In particular, they examined differences in effects across "local identity groups" (groups of students at the same campus in the same year who share key characteristics, such as race) rather than globally defined groups (e.g., all Black students).

Project Activities: The researchers developed and disseminated a 20-minute online growth mindset module to community college students enrolled in math or success skills courses. They recruited students from 6 community college systems in 5 states (19 total campuses) and randomly assigned them within their study classrooms to receive either the growth mindset module or a control module that teaches students about the structures of the brain. Students were offered an opportunity to receive a module in one of four semesters (Fall or Spring of the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 academic years), depending on their institution. The researchers used academic (course records) and demographic records from partner institutions to track students from their initial semester of study participation through ensuing academic years. Colleges provided 3 to 14 terms of data to use for assessing outcomes. The researchers used these institution-provided data, in combination with Qualtrics survey data they collected from participants directly, to evaluate whether assignment to the growth mindset intervention improves rates of full-time status and participation in a college-level (non-developmental) math course and gateway math course (math course that serves as a gateway to degrees).

Pre-registration Site:

Below is an anonymous, view-only link to the project's pre-registration site on OSF.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study took place across 19 community colleges (6 community college systems) in 5 states: Arizona, California, Indiana, Oregon, and Maryland.

Sample: The sample included 24,320 community college students enrolled in developmental or gateway courses at 2 colleges. The final sample contained 19,096 students from 6 colleges who were enrolled in math courses of varying levels (4 college systems) or success skills courses (2 college systems).

Intervention: The intervention was a brief, 20-minute online module that sought to help students cultivate the belief that intelligence is something a person can develop through deliberate effort, good strategies, and help from others (i.e., a growth mindset). The exercise was framed as an opportunity to learn interesting and helpful information about the brain and as coming from students' professors. Using a combination of factual text about the brain, pictures, anecdotes, and summaries of scientific studies, the intervention emphasized how people's intelligence and level of skill can improve when they confront new challenges and practice different ways of thinking. The exercise also emphasized the importance of seeking out challenges to increase abilities, switching strategies when necessary, and seeking out advice from other students and instructors. At the end of each exercise, students were invited to share the knowledge they had gained with other (future) students in the form of a letter.

Research Design and Methods: The research team worked with liaisons at community college sites to identify instructors of math or success skills courses who were willing to participate in the study. Instructors who chose to participate invited their students to participate in the study for course credit either as part of an in-class assignment in a campus computer lab or as a homework assignment. Over a 2-year period (Fall 2015 to Spring 2016), students used a code provided by their instructors to access the study website. Students who provided adequate information for the researchers to identify the student's classroom and who consented were randomly assigned to receive the growth mindset intervention module or the control module.  The online platform that delivered the intervention was also used to collect baseline measures (e.g., pre-assignment growth mindset) and to track fidelity of implementation. Over a 4-year period (Fall 2015 to summer 2019), the researchers obtained academic (records of students' courses taken and performance in each course) and demographic data from partner colleges. The researchers used official policy documents from colleges (course catalogs, academic requirements) available from college websites to construct consistent definitions of key outcomes pertaining to full-time status and math course-taking across colleges. In addition to these student data, the researchers also conducted a cost analysis of the intervention.

Control Condition: The control exercise was of similar length and structure as the intervention exercise. It also involved pictures, anecdotes, and summaries of scientific studies about the brain, and checked students understanding with brief writing exercises and a letter to a future student.  It provided interesting facts and stories about the brain without explicitly mentioning how it can grow or become stronger.

Key Measures: The primary outcome measures were whether students earned full-time status for at least one term during a student's first academic year of study participation and whether they completed higher-level math courses that serve important roles in facilitating community college progress: a college-level math course (a course higher than developmental) and a gateway math course (a course with at least three pre-requisites that tends to serve as a gateway to an associate's degree across colleges).  Because growth mindset is known to increase challenge-seeking (the challenges students are willing to attempt, even if they do not complete them), the researchers also measured attempt of each outcome separately from completion.

Data Analysis Plan: As specified in Pre-Registration 1, the researchers used fixed effect of study classroom linear regression models to assess the main effect of assignment to the intervention on the designated academic outcomes. As specified in Pre-Registration 3, the research team used a random effects analysis to determine whether key characteristics of students' racial-ethnic groups on each campus in each academic year—their proportional representation and status quo attainment of each outcome absent intervention—moderated the effect of the intervention on the same outcomes.

Cost Analysis: As part of their cost study, the researchers were first able to reduce their own costs of implementing the program so that  they are now able to offer the program free of charge to colleges, indefinitely into the future, (available at

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Publicly Available Data: As of December 2022, the researchers were working with the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) to make data available to the public by the end of 2023. Researchers may contact the PI for additional information in the interim.

Project Website: