WWC review of this study

Can re-enrollment campaigns help dropouts return to college? Evidence from Florida community colleges

Ortagus, J. C., Tanner, M. J., & McFarlin Jr., I. (2020). National Bureau of Economic Research

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
     examining 
    27,028
     Students
    , grade
    PS

Reviewed: May 2020

At least one finding shows strong evidence of effectiveness
At least one statistically significant positive finding
Meets WWC standards without reservations
College enrollment outcomes—Statistically significant positive effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
ESSA
rating

College re-enrollment

Re-enrollment campaigns vs. Business as usual

0 Days

Information + One-Course Waiver Group;
18,019 students

8.60

7.10

Yes

 
 
5
 
More Outcomes

College re-enrollment

Re-enrollment campaigns vs. Business as usual

0 Days

Full sample - Information Only - All Institutions;
18,019 students

7.60

7.10

No

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Show Supplemental Findings

College Re-enrollment: Full-Time

Re-enrollment campaigns vs. Business as usual

0 Days

Information + One-Course Waiver Group;
18,019 students

2.80

2.30

--

--

College Re-enrollment: Part-Time

Re-enrollment campaigns vs. Business as usual

0 Days

Information + One-Course Waiver Group;
18,019 students

6.40

5.50

--

--

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.


  • 13% English language learners

  • Female: 59%
    Male: 41%
  • Race
    Black
    24%
    Not specified
    76%
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    Florida

Setting

The authors of the study point out that students can experience financial and other social benefits after completing a degree, yet many students drop out of college even after making substantial progress toward completing school. College re-enrollment campaigns encourage students to re-enroll in and complete their degree. This study examined the effects of a text message-based campaign to nudge former students to re-enroll in community colleges. The study was conducted during the 2018-19 academic year with five community colleges in Florida. These colleges each enrolled about 64,000 students.

Study sample

Former students were eligible for the study if they: (1) accrued 30 credit hours; (2) established a grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or better; (3) had no behavioral or financial holds preventing their re-enrollment; and (4) were previously enrolled in a degree-seeking program, but “stopped out” in the past three years. The study sample included 27,028 former students who were randomly assigned to (1) receive text-based nudges to re-enroll (Information-Only Group); (2) receive text-based nudges plus tuition waiver for one course (Information + One Course Waiver); or (3) a comparison group. The sample that informed the Information + One Course versus comparison sample had 18,019 students. Approximately 42 percent of the sample was male; the average age was just over 31 years. About 24 percent of individuals in the control group were Black, 16 percent were Hispanic, 29 percent identified as multi-racial, and close to 13 percent reported having limited English skills. Participants’ average GPA was 2.8, and the average number of credits they accumulated was 45. Approximately 12 percent of study participants were previously enrolled full-time and 20 percent of the sample transferred to a community college from a different post-secondary institution. Finally, about 49 percent of individuals in the study received need-based aid. There were no statistically significant differences across the three groups at the beginning of the study, except the Information-Only Group had a slightly higher GPA (0.015 points) than the comparison group. This difference was accounted for in the statistical analysis.

Intervention Group

Former college students in Information-Only Group received 10 text messages meant to nudge them toward re-enrolling in college. Former students who replied to any of the texts received an automated reply directing them to their custom website to streamline the re-enrollment process, apply for financial aid, or contact an assigned advisor for assistance. Former students in the Information + One Course Waiver group received these same texts, but were also offered a one-course tuition waiver. This waiver offered the equivalent of 3 credit hours of in-state tuition at the college. Depending on the college, this waiver could be conditional in that it would be offered only if other financial aid did not cover course tuition, or unconditional, meaning that the credit was refundable even if all other tuition was covered by aid. Three colleges made the waiver conditional and two college made the waiver unconditional.

Comparison Group

Students in the comparison group received no text messages or course waivers, but they had access to the same opportunities for advising and financial aid assistance offered by the college as students in the intervention group.

Support for implementation

The study authors worked with a third-party vendor to ensure that all study participants had an active cell phone number. The study authors also used data from the National Student Clearinghouse to ensure that study participants had not already enrolled in or graduated from another college or university.

 

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