Nudges, College Enrollment, and College Persistence: Evidence From a Statewide Experiment in Michigan

Joshua Hyman. 2018. “Nudges, College Enrollment, and College Persistence: Evidence From a Statewide Experiment in Michigan”

Abstract

I conduct a statewide experiment in Michigan with nearly 50,000 high-achieving high school seniors. Treated students are mailed a letter encouraging them to consider college and providing them with the web address of a college information website. I find that very high-achieving, poor and minority students are the most likely to navigate to the website. Small changes to letter content have dramatic effects on take-up. For example, highlighting college affordability induces 18 percent more students to the website than highlighting college choice, and 37 percent more than highlighting how to apply to college. Poor students who are mailed the letter experience a 1.4 percentage point increase in the probability that they enroll in college, driven by increases at four- year institutions. Unfortunately, these students tend not to persist through college, leading to an effect only half as large on the probability of enrolling and persisting to the second year of college, and a near zero impact on enrolling and persisting to the third year. These findings highlight the importance of supporting marginal college enrollees through college, and, for researchers, the necessity of examining persistence when evaluating college-going interventions.

[Download the EPI working paper]