Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence from Field Experiments

58 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2017 Last revised: 2 Feb 2023

See all articles by Damon Clark

Damon Clark

University of California - Paul Merage School of Business - Economics/Health Care

David Gill

Purdue University - Krannert School of Management

Victoria L. Prowse

Purdue University - Department of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin)

Mark Rush

University of Florida - Warrington College of Business Administration - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 2017

Abstract

Will college students who set goals for themselves work harder and achieve better outcomes? In theory, setting goals can help present-biased students to mitigate their self-control problem. In practice, there is little credible evidence on the causal effects of goal setting for college students. We report the results of two field experiments that involved almost four thousand college students in total. One experiment asked treated students to set goals for performance in the course; the other asked treated students to set goals for a particular task (completing online practice exams). Task-based goals had large and robust positive effects on the level of task completion, and task-based goals also increased course performance. Further analysis indicates that the increase in task completion induced by setting task-based goals caused the increase in course performance. We also find that performance-based goals had positive but small effects on course performance. We use theory that builds on present bias and loss aversion to interpret our results. Since task-based goal setting is low-cost, scaleable and logistically simple, we conclude that our findings have important implications for educational practice and future research.

Suggested Citation

Clark, Damon and Gill, David and Prowse, Victoria L. and Rush, Mark, Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence from Field Experiments (July 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w23638, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3011137

Damon Clark (Contact Author)

University of California - Paul Merage School of Business - Economics/Health Care ( email )

Irvine, CA 92697-3125
United States

David Gill

Purdue University - Krannert School of Management ( email )

1310 Krannert Building
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1310
United States

Victoria L. Prowse

Purdue University - Department of Economics ( email )

West Lafayette, IN 47907-1310
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) ( email )

Mohrenstra├če 58
Berlin, 10117
Germany

Mark Rush

University of Florida - Warrington College of Business Administration - Department of Economics ( email )

Gainesville, FL 32611-7140
United States
(352) 392-0318 (Phone)
(352) 392-7860 (Fax)

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