Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein popularized the concept of “nudges” when it comes to influencing human behavior. For example, randomized controlled trials have demonstrated the influence food placement in a cafeteria has over healthy food choices as well as how wording on new employee documents can influence individuals to save for retirement. In recent years, researchers have worked to apply this methodology to address issues of inequality.
Recently, researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Pittsburgh found that reminder text messages during college application season detailing deadlines had a significant influence on whether or not a student actually enrolled in college. A follow-up study even found that these messages increased the likelihood that a student would not drop out of university.
The college application messaging program cost approximately $7 for student. It is encouraging to hear about low-cost approaches to improving student outcomes. It also speaks to the potential for universities to better engage and to alert students of upcoming opportunities through social media. Further, it makes me think about the ways in which universities can redesign admissions processes to accommodate students who miss deadlines or other important requirements like recommendations.
The result? Students who received the texts were more likely to enroll in college: 70 percent, compared with 63 percent of those who did not get them. Seven percentage points is a big increase in this field, similar to the gains produced by scholarships that cost thousands of dollars. Yet this program cost only $7 per student.