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IES Grant

Title: Financial Aid Nudges: A National Experiment to Increase Retention of Financial Aid and College Persistence
Center: NCER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Goldrick-Rab, Sara Awardee: Temple University
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (7/1/2016-6/30/2021) Award Amount: $2,175,114
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A160400
Description:

Co-Principal Investigators: Benjamin Castleman (University of Virginia), Lindsay Page (University of Pittsburgh), Bruce Sacerdote (Dartmouth College)

Purpose: In this project, researchers investigate whether an intervention that provides financial aid information, reminders, and advising to college students increases completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and compliance with the Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements of the Pell grant program. The research team will convey information, reminders, and offers of additional assistance to students via text message. The intervention is expected to work by making students aware of crucial financial aid and SAP requirements, along with the financial benefits of complying with these requirements. First-generation students with less access to college-going information, as well as students who are working or have dependents, are expected to benefit the most from the intervention, as a consequence of substantial increases in their knowledge of requirements and/or re-shaping of their immediate priorities. If proven beneficial, the intervention could be replicated as a cost-effective strategy for institutions and state systems to transmit crucial policy information from administrators to students, and to provide personalized advising for students who need it.

Project Activities: During the first stage of the project, researchers will randomize eligible students to the two treatment conditions and the control condition. After that, during the 2016–17 academic year, researchers will administer the intervention in two forms to equally-sized groups of students. The first group of students will receive information and reminders pertaining to financial aid and SAP requirements; the second group of students will receive the same information and reminders, plus the offer to interact with an online college advisor. After implementing the intervention, researchers will analyze its impacts on FAFSA filing, college enrollment, and degree completion, and will compare impacts across key student groups.

Products: Researchers will produce evidence of the efficacy of this intervention for U.S. college students at community colleges and four-year institutions, and a variety of non-technical policy briefs to convey their findings to policymakers and administrators. The researchers will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place at community colleges and 4-year institutions spread out across the United States.

Sample: Approximately 8,700 first-, second-, and third-year students at 2-year and 4-year postsecondary institutions will participate in the study. The research team will draw the sample from students participating in the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study of 2016 (NPSAS:16) who were interviewed at the time when they were recruited for NPSAS:16, and who agreed to participate in additional data collections associated with NPSAS:16. The sample will represent U.S. college students in their first three years of college who completed a FAFSA in the year previous to this study.

Intervention: The intervention combines detailed information on financial aid and SAP requirements with "nudges" (reminders) to complete key tasks before their deadlines and personalized assistance via an online advisor. All students in the treatment group will receive information and reminders, and a subset will be offered the opportunity to receive additional assistance from an online advisor who will be available via text message, email, and telephone. The information will consist of facts about the requirements and benefits of completing a FAFSA and complying with SAP requirements. Researchers will deliver the "nudges" to students at key points in the FAFSA filing timeline, encouraging them to complete well-defined tasks in advance of deadlines that have implications for their receipt of aid. Advising will be delivered by College Possible, a non-profit provider of college-going supports for low-income students.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will randomize students to two treatment and one control condition, with each of the treatment conditions comprising 40 percent of the sample, and the control condition comprising 20 percent of the sample. One treatment group will receive information and nudges, another will receive information and nudges plus assistance from an advisor, and the control group will not receive any information or services included in the intervention. The randomized design will facilitate causal estimates of the two treatment impacts in relation to the control condition, and in relation to each other.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition will receive the business-as-usual college-going information and reminders provided by their institutions and relevant agencies including the U.S. Department of Education.

Key Measures: Researchers are concerned with two sets of outcome measures. They will track FAFSA filing and the composition of students' financial aid packages (i.e. grants versus loans) using data from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). They will construct college enrollment, persistence, and degree completion outcomes with enrollment and completion data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC). Researchers will measure fidelity of implementation for the intervention by keeping track of the number of students with active cell phone numbers who are therefore capable of receiving text messages, and by monitoring advisors' responses to students' requests for assistance. Potential moderators of the intervention such as a student's year in college, the family members' college attainment, work involvement, and number of dependents, will come from NPSAS:16.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will employ a linear regression with binary treatment measures to assess whether treatment impacts differ significantly from baseline (the control condition). To assess whether the two treatment impacts differ significantly from each other, researchers will employ a post-hoc linear hypothesis test. To assess whether either or both of the treatment impacts differ significantly for specific sub-groups of students or across institutional contexts (i.e. 2- and 4-year colleges) the research team will estimate parameters based on interaction terms that combine the treatment indicators with the sub-group measure of interest.


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