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Despite documented benefits to college completion, more than a third of students who initially enroll in college do not ultimately earn a credential. Completing college requires students to navigate both institutional administrative tasks (e.g., registering for classes) and academic tasks within courses (e.g., completing homework). In postsecondary education, several promising interventions have shown that text-based outreach and communication can be a low-cost, easy to implement, and effective strategy for supporting administrative task navigation. In this paper, we report on two randomized controlled trials testing the effect of a text-based chatbot with artificial intelligence (AI) capability on students' academic task navigation in introductory courses (political science and economics). We find the academic chatbot significantly shifted students’ final grades, increasing the likelihood students received a course grade of B or higher by 5-6 percentage points and reduced the likelihood students dropped the course.
Decisions to invest in human capital depend on people’s time preferences. We show that differences in patience are closely related to substantial subnational differences in educational achievement, leading to new perspectives on longstanding within-country disparities. We use social-media data – Facebook interests – to construct novel regional measures of patience within Italy and the United States. Patience is strongly positively associated with student achievement in both countries, accounting for two-thirds of the achievement variation across Italian regions and one-third across U.S. states. Results also hold for six other countries with more limited regional achievement data.
Students’ college choices can affect their chances of earning a degree, but many lack the support to navigate the opaque college application and admissions process. This paper evaluates whether guaranteeing four-year college admissions based on transparent academic standards affected community college students’ enrollment choices and graduation rates. Guaranteed admissions increased high-GPA graduates’ transfer rates to highly-selective colleges by 30 percent. Increased transfers to highly-selective colleges also accompanied higher graduation rates and lower student debt. Gains were largest for students with historically lower transfer rates. Transparent admissions standards can increase access to selective colleges at low to no cost.
Generally, need-based financial aid improves students’ academic outcomes. However, the largest source of need-based grant aid in the United States, the Federal Pell Grant Program (Pell), has a mixed evaluation record. We assess the minimum Pell Grant in a regression discontinuity framework, using Kentucky administrative data. We focus on whether and how year-to-year changes in aid eligibility and interactions with other sources of aid attenuate Pell’s estimated effects on post-secondary outcomes. This evaluation complements past work by assessing explanations for the null or muted impacts found in our analysis and other Pell evaluations. We also discuss the limitations of using regression discontinuity methods to evaluate Pell—or other interventions with dynamic eligibility criteria—with respect to generalizability and construct validity.
This paper discusses the importance of incorporating personal assistance into interventions aimed at improving long-term education and labor market success. While existing research demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of low-touch behavioral nudges, this paper argues that the dynamic nature of human capital accumulation requires sustained habits over time. To foster better habits, social connections are critical for encouraging enduring effort and intrinsic motivation. The paper showcases examples from various stages of human capital accumulation, including early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, in which interventions that incorporate personal assistance substantially out-perform less intensive nudges. We underscore the importance of interactive support, guidance, and motivation in facilitating significant progress and explore the challenges associated with implementing cost-effective policies to provide such assistance.
The impact of test-optional college admissions policies depends on whether applicants act strategically in disclosing test scores. We analyze individual applicants’ standardized test scores and disclosure behavior to 50 major US colleges for entry in fall 2021, when Covid-19 prompted widespread adoption of test-optional policies. Applicants withheld low scores and disclosed high scores, including seeking admissions advantages by conditioning their disclosure choices on their other academic characteristics, colleges’ selectivity and testing policy statements, and the Covid-related test access challenges of the applicants’ local peers. We find only modest differences in test disclosure strategies by applicants’ race and socioeconomic characteristics.
Scholars disagree about the effect out-of-state university students have on potential in-state students. Despite paying a premium to attend state universities, researchers argue that out-of-state students may come at a cost to in-state students by negatively affecting academic quality or by crowding out in-state students. To study this relationship, we examine the effect of a 2016 policy at a highly ranked state flagship university that removed the limit on how many out-of-state students it could enroll. We find the policy caused an increase in out-of-state enrollment by around 29 percent and increased tuition revenue collected by the university by 47 percent. We argue that this revenue was used to fund increases in financial aid disbursed at the university, particularly to students from low-income households, indicating that out-of-state students cross-subsidize lower income students. We also fail to find evidence that this increase in out-of-state students had any effect on several measures of academic quality.
College success requires students to engage with their institution academically and administratively. Missteps with required administrative processes can threaten student persistence and success. Through two experimental studies, we assessed the effectiveness of an artificially intelligent text-based chatbot that provided proactive outreach and support to college students to navigate administrative processes and use campus resources. In both the two-year and four-year college context, outreach was most effective when focused on discrete administrative processes such as filing financial aid forms or registering for courses which were acute, time-sensitive, and for which outreach could be targeted to those for whom it was relevant. In the context of replicating studies to better inform policy and programmatic decision making, we draw three core lessons regarding the effective use of nudge-type efforts to promote college success.
Complexity and uncertainty in the college application process contribute to longstanding racial and socioeconomic disparities in enrollment. We leverage a large-scale experiment that combines an early guarantee of college admission with a proactive nudge, fee waiver, and structural application simplification to test the impacts of emerging “direct admissions” policies on students’ college-going behaviors. Students in the intervention were 2.7 percentage points (or 12%) more likely to submit a college application, with larger impacts for racially minoritized, first-generation, and low-income students. Students were most responsive to automatic offers from larger, higher quality institutions on the application margin, but were not more likely to subsequently enroll. In the face of growing adoption, we show this low-cost, low-touch intervention can move the needle on important college-going behaviors but is insufficient alone to increase enrollment given other barriers to access, including the ability to pay for college.