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Summer Texting, Mentoring Keeps Incoming College Students on Track

Over the summer, research shows as many as 40 percent of students who intended to go to college fail to carry through with their plans. The problem is especially acute in low-income communities where first-generation students may not have the same supports as their peers once they leave high school.

But counselors sending a text message with college reminders and peer mentors offering encouragement can make a difference in getting students on campus in the fall, according to a new paper by Harvard University researchers.

"Summer Nudging: Can Personalized Text Messages and Peer-Mentor Outreach Increase College Going Among Low-Income High School Graduates?" by Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay C. Page found texting and mentoring were promising approaches
both to inform students of college-related summer tasks and to connect them to professional support when they need help.

The researchers conducted two large-scale randomized trials of these simple practices and found they substantially increased college enrollment in several intervention sites, particularly among students living in places where few other people graduated from college and supports were scarce.

And the price is right: The text message campaign cost $7 per participant and the peer-mentoring effort ran $80 per student.

With the text-messaging initiative, recent high school graduates and their parents were sent up to 10 text-message reminders of key tasks to complete over the summer. The messages were customized to cover the items needed to be done at the school where the student had committed and included an option of requesting follow-up help from a counselor by responding to the message.

The peer-mentor intervention recruited college students from the community to reach out to the new high school graduates to serve as a resource to them in the summer transition. The mentors shared their experiences, helped answer students' questions and connected students to professional counseling, as needed.

Researchers note that texting is the preferred means of communication for many young people and it has many potential benefits for education—in choosing schools to attend, courses to take, and colleges to apply.

"As schools and governments grapple with limited and, in some cases, declining budgets, practitioners and policymakers will need to develop low-cost, high-impact strategies to help low-income students and their families select and continue along educational pathways that prepare them for future success," the paper concludes. "Our results illustrate both the feasibility and impact of a text-message campaign and serve to set the stage for policymakers and practitioners to use similar strategies to support students in making better educational decisions and smoother transitions throughout their educational trajectories."

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