One thing’s for darn sure: young people love, love, love to text. Texting replaced phone calls as the main way to communicate on mobile devices some time ago, with a 2012 Pew survey finding the average teen sending 60 messages per day. And while encouraging teenagers to text is like encouraging them to eat ice cream, convincing them to apply to college is much more challenging.
University of Pittsburgh researcher Lindsay Page has researched the college application process extensively, and came up with the “summer melt” theory, or the theory that many students, especially those in the low-income bracket, refrain from enrolling in college due to financial and logistical challenges that occur following high school graduation. Page and colleague Benjamin Castleman, a professor at the University of Virginia, tested several interventions designed to make the process easier.
“We started out very low-tech, having counselors or college advisors basically receive a caseload of students,” Page said. “And it was the responsibility of the counselor or advisor to use all of the modes of communication at their disposal to reach out to the students. So it would be calling and emailing.”
Neither of these methods did much, so Page and Castleman decided to reach teens through their mobile devices and via one of the activities they enjoy most--texting.
“It’s a deceptively simple idea,” Page noted.
Page and Castleman devised an experiment in the summer of 2012, starting with groups of recent high school graduates in Texas and Massachusetts. Some students received 10 reminders over a set period suggesting they complete paperwork, fill out housing forms, and take placement tests. Other students did not receive texts.
The overall results of the experiment, which will be published later this year in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, showed Page and Castleman that their “deceptively simple” solution could work very well in the real world.
“This is definitely something that is very promising,” Page said.
Delaware was the first state to utilize the texting program. Each of its 8,726 high school seniors were eligible to receive text messages, which started in January as opposed to the summer. More than 4,000 students have enrolled as a result, as have 363 of their parents.
The state’s computer program sends out 400 texts over two-hour period about three times each month. Texts are streamlined to the phase of the students’ application process, for example those who have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form would receive different notifications that those who have not. And once schools are chosen, many students receive text messages concerning their future plans.
“Even after students apply to college there are many time-sensitive tasks they need to keep up with,” Page said. “Really the goal is to say hey, don’t forget you need to do this thing. Do you have questions about doing this?”
Will more states implement this system? It seems quite likely.