Stark State College is one of four community colleges participating in an initiative where selected students are sent periodic text messages to help them stay on track toward their degree. Early results are promising, officials say.

JACKSON TWP.  Lexi Woodin checks the messages on her glittery pink cellphone dozens of times a day.

Her email? Not so much.

So when the Stark State radiology student started receiving text messages reminding her of upcoming deadlines, she was more apt to see them and act on them.

“I pay more attention to my phone than to email,” said Woodin, a 2017 Sandy Valley graduate. “With an email, I think, ‘I’ll get to it later.’”

A recent study found that community college students who received personalized mobile text messages designed to nudge them to keep on track of their studies were more likely to return to college for another year.

The study, conducted by Jobs for the Future and Persistence Plus, followed about 2,000 students studying science, engineering, technology and math at Stark State and three other community colleges to gauge the impact of text message communications on college completion and student success.

The study, which started last summer, found that 69 percent of the students who received the text nudges returned for the fall 2017 semester compared to only 59 percent of the students who did not receive the nudges. The study, which also involved Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College and John Tyler Community College in Chester, Virginia, is expected to continue through the fall. Editor's note: This sentence has been corrected to fix an error. See details below.

Researchers said they focused on community college students studying in the fields of science, engineering, technology and math because community colleges nationwide produce more than one-half of all STEM degrees, but more than two-thirds of STEM associate degree candidates do not complete their STEM studies. About half of the students switch to a non-STEM major and the other half leave college without earning a degree or certification. They noted that it’s important for STEM students to remain on track because the United States faces a projected shortage of workers for jobs that require STEM skills.

How it works

The messages, sent by Persistence Plus, are designed to periodically check in with students to remind them of important dates or to ask them about their study plans. They also can direct students to resources, such as if they need money for a meal, or share with them statistics of how students often struggle with an aspect of school at particular points in the semester along with strategies to overcome it.

Woodin, one of 500 STEM students at Stark State to be randomly selected for the study, said she would receive a text nudge once or twice every few weeks. The messages often would seek to alert her about an upcoming deadline regarding registration or financial aid, she said.

She said one of the messages prompted her to reach out to Stark State’s financial aid office to see whether a scholarship she had earned had been accepted.

While retention figures specific to Stark State were not available, Lada Gibson-Shreve, provost and chief academic officer at Stark State, said the college has seen the same positive outcomes. She believes the nudges are successful because they help to refocus students during times when other non-school obstacles might be getting in the way.

“Students get really busy so getting reminders during the semester is very helpful,” she said. “Their lives are no different than ours.”

Gibson-Shreve, who will be one of the presenters of the program’s early results and retention gains at the annual conferences of the American Association of Community Colleges and Jobs for the Future, said the promising early results are prompting Stark State to examine using text messages as a way to notify students about campus announcements and initiatives.

Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or kelli.weir@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @kweirREP

 

Correction: A study on the effectiveness of text nudging on college students found that 69 percent of students who received the text messages returned for the fall 2017 semester. An incorrect percentage was previously reported.