The past few years some higher education students have received a nudge now and then. A missed deadline, too many absences, an invitation to see an adviser all are events that can prompt a text or email nudge. A nudge is simply one way that higher education institutions are trying to ensure student success.
Nudges are a common way of influencing people’s behavior. We receive text and email reminders that credit card payments are coming due, it’s time to schedule a dentist appointment, or that a sale is ending. Each of these is designed to initiate a certain behavior, to prompt us to take action. In the same way a nudge is designed to promote behavior that helps students succeed.
Jobs for the future, a nonprofit that works with education systems and the American workforce, partnered with Persistence Plus, a behavioral science organization, to study the effect of nudges on STEM students.
The report Nudging to STEM Success (NTSS) shows that their first trial which involved four community colleges in the summer of 2017, had positive results: nudges increased persistence in STEM students by 10 percentage points compared to students who did not receive nudges.
The NTSS trial continued beyond the first summer with more positive results. Among the students who subscribed to nudges:
The longer term effects were also positive. Over three terms from 2017 – 2018, 65 percent of student who continued receiving nudges persisted compared to 52 percent who unsubscribed from the service. And diverse populations benefited. Among nontraditional students over age 25, 64 percent persisted after their first semester compared with 44 percent who opted out of the service.
There have been numerous reports about the positive effects on student success, indicating that this is a good way to reach students. However, a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper about nudging students to complete their FAFSA forms for student aid did not show positive results. In their trial the nudges didn’t cause students to take action and complete their student aid forms. The NBER lack of positive results from nudges offers valuable insight. NBER surmises this happened because most of the time nudges come from a school or local source that has a close connection to students. Students may react positively to a nudge from someone they think is personally interested in them. A large global effort such as the NBER program is not personal. “We cannot isolate exactly why our interventions did not work, but it seems like the relationship between the student and the source of the nudge matters,” the report states.
Persistence Plus’s explains why their program has been successful. “We leverage behavioral nudging, mobile technology, and an intelligent software solution to help students develop mindsets and behaviors for success and navigate the path to completion.” Developing mindsets for success is possible. “When students can get reinforcing messages that they belong in college, that they are smart and can be successful, and that overcoming challenges is possible, then persisting to be anything they want to be—such as a scientist in STEM—is possible.”
This connection and personal relationship between the student and the source of the nudge are basic components of employer education benefits. Positive messages can come in the form of creating a career path that steers employees into positions that will fill future talent gaps. A clearly outlined career path shows employees that they are a valued part of their company structure. Their success is important to their personal well-being just as it is important in helping the company build a stronger workforce and increase productivity. The personal connection between the employee and employer as source of the nudge in any form creates employee loyalty and retention. Employees see their employer as having a vested interested in them as an important part of the company and work towards attainment because they see growth opportunities. Employers benefit from giving their employees a nudge because they can fill skill gaps from within.
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