Finishing the Last Lap: Experimental Evidence on Strategies to Increase College Completion for Students at Risk of Late Departure

49 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2017

See all articles by Zachary Mabel

Zachary Mabel

College Board

Benjamin Castleman

University of Virginia

Eric Bettinger

Stanford University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 2017

Abstract

Nearly half of students who enter college do not graduate and completion disparities by race and income are large. While the majority of efforts to increase degree attainment have focused on supporting students before or soon after they enter college, many students drop out after spending significant time in school. In this paper, we report pilot-year results from an experimental intervention we conducted across five states and nine broad-access, public colleges and universities to help students graduate. The intervention provided students late into college with personalized text messages that prompted them to identify goals associated with finishing their degree, encouraged them to connect with campus-based academic and financial resources, and reminded them of upcoming and important deadlines. We find no evidence of effects on academic performance or attainment in the full sample, although implementation challenges at two institutions make results from this sample difficult to interpret and potentially downward-biased. In our preferred sample which excludes those institutions, the intervention decreased fall-to-spring dropout by 14 percent, from 17.5 to 15 percent. Among students in this sample at greatest risk of dropout based on their background and prior enrollment experiences, outreach increased degree completion after one year by 6 percentage points, or 38 percent.

Keywords: College completion; late departure; human capital; behavioral economics

JEL Classification: I23, J18

Suggested Citation

Mabel, Zachary and Castleman, Benjamin and Bettinger, Eric, Finishing the Last Lap: Experimental Evidence on Strategies to Increase College Completion for Students at Risk of Late Departure (October 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3054765 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3054765

Zachary Mabel (Contact Author)

College Board ( email )

DC
United States

Benjamin Castleman

University of Virginia ( email )

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Eric Bettinger

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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