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Evaluation Studies of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

Effectiveness of Promising Strategies in Federal College Access Programs: Study of College Transition Text Messaging in GEAR UP

Contractor: Abt Associates

Background/Research Questions:

Although academic preparation and financial circumstances continue to be barriers to postsecondary success among low-income students, the complexity of the process of applying to, enrolling in and staying in college has emerged as another factor. According to recent behavioral science research, customized reminder messages and access to real-time support could help overcome procedural hurdles associated with registration, course selection, financial aid award and renewal, meeting with advisors, and tuition payments—all of which can derail students' college matriculation and persistence into sophomore year. This demonstration will test these promising strategies, building on the new opportunity for GEAR UP grantees to support a first year of college transition introduced in the 2008 amendments to the Higher Education Act. GEAR UP is one of the U.S. Department of Education's college access programs, funding states or local partnerships of districts and postsecondary institutions to serve students in high need schools beginning in 7th grade.

The evaluation will address two key questions:

  • Does the text-based reminder strategy improve GEAR UP students' rates of college enrollment and persistence?
  • For which types of students is the strategy more or less beneficial?


The demonstration targeted recruitment to FY 2011 grantees—the first eligible to use funds to support a year of post-high school services. Across about 80 schools, almost 5,000 seniors in school years 2015–2016 or 2016–2017 were randomly assigned to receive the college transition services grantees originally proposed in their applications or those services plus the customized reminders and support through text messages. Reminders and support began at the end of students' high school senior year and continued into the spring of their expected first year of college. The study team administered a survey before the reminder messaging began to collect information on students' experiences with college advising and their intended college (so that the messages can be tailored to individual schools' deadlines and requirements). College enrollment and persistence, as well as FAFSA renewal, will be measured using administrative records.

Cost/Duration: $6,267,051 over 6.5 years (September 2012–March 2020)

Current Status:

The study's text messaging and data collection have been completed. A report describing impacts on college enrollment, initially, and through the second year after high school, is expected in fall 2019.