In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, ideas42 managing director Alissa Fishbane discusses the best ways for colleges to practice behavioral interventions to improve student outcomes.
ideas42 is a nonprofit that researches the cognitive, emotional, and social factors that prevent people from following through on their intentions. The group released a report detailing studies it has conducted to help students get to and through college.
Fishbane shares what ideas42 has determined are the most effective ways to nudge students toward success:
Help students stamp out negative self-perceptions
Sometimes students just need a little confidence boost to stay on the right track, as demonstrated in the case of San Francisco State University. Students who had the academic capacity to succeed were still dropping out. ideas42 found that students were doubting their abilities, believing they did not belong in college. To help combat students' poor self-perceptions, ideas42 created a short video featuring older students who discussed their challenges in college and how they overcame them.
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The combination of the video, follow-up questions and monthly texts resulted in a 10% increase in retention for the students at the highest risk of dropping out: low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students.
"People are really starting to take a close look at this kind of social norming as a powerful retention strategy. Some students absolutely need that boost of confidence that comes from feeling like you belong, that you aren’t an imposter. We've found that this is particularly true with first-generation students, who tend be retained at higher rates when they get connected to other first-gen peers, and feel less like they are just going it alone," says Ed Venit, a senior director at EAB.
Figure out how to best communicate with students
How colleges provide information to students can have a significant impact on their success. But improving communications doesn't always require a major overhaul. Fishbane explains that in numerous experiments, ideas42 simply had to tweak the content in emails to address certain bottlenecks.
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However, colleges that lack communication among departments need to take a holistic look at their operations. Encouraging more streamlined inter-department communication will ultimately benefit students.
Assess what to change
While some barriers to improved student outcomes are simple to understand, it's important to know when an underlying issue is at hand. Fishbane points to H&R Block's study examining different ways to help families file the FAFSA. According to Fishbane, there are two ways to approach the findings: administrators could look at the data and decide to offer the best assistance to all families, or they could tackle the greater problem of how difficult it is to file to FAFSA.
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"Some things, we've already created a fix, and it's fine to just do that," Fishbane says. "If it's something overly complicated, though, why not fix it from the beginning?" (Supiano, Chronicle of Higher Education, 6/22).
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