Behavioral Science Group Examines Enrollment, Retention At Two Colleges

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

While financial aid can play a role in a student’s success, other behavioral factors can play a significant a role in enrollment and completion, ideas42 said in a webinar on Thursday.

Ideas42 is a non-profit group that uses behavioral sciences to create solutions for real-world problems. The webinar, “Behavioral Insights and Interventions in Postsecondary Education,” highlighted ongoing work the group is doing to address the low national completion rate by examining enrollment and retention at two schools – LaGuardia Community College (LLC) in New York and San Francisco State University (SFSU). 

During the webinar, ideas42 presenters said they were surprised that financial aid did not play a larger role in improving enrollment and retention rates at the schools, where their respective financial aid offices work effectively with students who have financial challenges. 

The presenters noted that students cited various behavior-based indicators as challenges to their success, such as a lack of feeling included on campus or little positive feedback on academic progress.

For example, ideas42 said a large number of students fail to complete enrollment at LaGuardia Community College because of five “behavioral bottlenecks”:

  • Enrollment hassles, such as academic placement testing;
  • A lack of student identity;
  • Non-academic priorities among students, such as jobs and families;
  • Aversive stimuli or a lack of positivity in the enrollment process; and 
  • The amount of time it takes to complete enrollment, about 144 days in the case of LCC. 

Through its project, ideas42 is attempting to improve the enrollment rate by simplifying the overall enrollment process and creating a more positive enrollment environment to get students to identify as part of the college’s community. The group has worked with the college to improve their email communication for its Spring 2015 students, making the messages easier to read and increasing the prominence of certain information like links to sign up for testing times or checklists to adhere to. The messaging has also been tweaked to make the students feel as if they are already a part of the college’s community, despite not having fully enrolled.

Ideas42 is also working on improving the retention rate at San Francisco State University (SFSU), where 18 percent of freshmen do not return to the school for their sophomore year and many do not re-enroll at another school at all. Through its research with the students, ideas42 discovered that the issue of student retention centered on three bottlenecks:

  • Difficulty getting involved or feeling like a part of the college community;
  • Academic, administrative, or social obstacles; and 
  • A lack of positive feedback or progress report on their academic progress.

The school and ideas42 are working to address this problem creating a video that reframes how students view the challenges of going to college, making them more of a collective experience all college students encounter rather than an individual issue. The video is followed up with a survey students complete with questions that reinforce their ability to set goals and encourage campus involvement. 

SFSU is also improving its messages to students in email and text messaging to encourage campus involvement and has seen an email open-rate of 60 percent or higher. They have also seen a 95 percent completion rate for the video and survey.

Ideas42 will continue testing at both colleges and rack the results through 2015.


Publication Date: 10/24/2014

Kimberly L | 10/24/2014 11:20:13 AM

Three cheers for Mindy!!! I have a quote that I share with friends and family members, "The good thing about community college is open access. The bad thing about community college is open access."

Mindy S | 10/24/2014 10:9:16 AM

Certainly student engagement aids in retention and breaking down barriers to increase access and affordibility are important but what about the factors not mentioned in this piee? Primarily, there are forces beyond an institutions control; such as a student's need for stable housing, reliable transportation, access to health care, most importantly mental health care. Community colleges are open access making us the panacea for all that ills society. We will accept everyone, provide guidance and counsel and all the academic resources free of charge. WE WANT OUR STUDENTS TO SUCEED. It is the student who come to us with so many issues beyond our control that create the obtacles to completion. I refer to Maslow's Hierachy of Self Actualization often when counseling students in the hopes they will have a firm foundation before enrolling.

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