- Students who dropped out of community college were 21% more likely to reenroll if they received a one-course tuition waiver and text messages with information about how to return, University of Florida researchers found in a new study.
- Just providing information via texts, however, did not have a major impact on whether students reenrolled.
- The findings add to previous research that suggests nudges, which are digital alerts designed to influence behavior, have a limited effect on college attendance when used on their own.
The study split 27,028 former students into three groups. One received texts about the enrollment process and key deadlines, one received that information plus a tuition waiver for one course, and another was the control group.
Noting that the process of reenrolling in college could be "complex" and "challenging to navigate" for students, the researchers worked with five community colleges, all in Florida, to create custom websites intended to make it easier for students to do so.
"One thing that was really surprising to us was the fact that the information alone was not something we could claim led to reenrollment," Justin Ortagus, one of the study's authors, said in an interview with Education Dive. But when the nudges were paired with a financial incentive, students were not only more likely to come back but also to take more than one course.
"From a financial revenue perspective, it also makes sense for the institution," Ortagus said.
The campaign worked particularly well for students who had lower GPAs or had accumulated more credits than other students in the study and those who were older than traditional-aged undergraduates, the researchers found.
It also has implications for community colleges and four-year institutions that focus on adult learners, both of which are hoping to reenroll some of the 36 million Americans who have completed some college but don't have a degree.
This market could be especially important to community colleges, where completion rates hover around 30%, according to federal data. Boosting student outcomes by bringing back stopped-out students may also bring in more revenue for institutions in states that use performance-based funding, Ortagus said.
Colleges' reenrollment campaigns take various forms. Some colleges contract with vendors that specialize in bringing back students.
In late 2018, the Texas A&M University System partnered with ReUp Education, a startup that uses a combination of automated messaging and human coaches to reenroll stopped-out students and support them until they graduate. The company reenrolled about 300 students across the system for the following fall semester, Inside Higher Ed reported.
Other institutions have been using financial incentives to encourage students to return. In 2016, Colorado's Pueblo Community College promised to forgive students up to $1,000 in institutional debt after they reenrolled and finished one semester. As of last April, the effort had brought back more than 300 students and recouped roughly $350,000 in revenue.