“We’re trying to nudge these students to re-enroll and ultimately reap the benefits associated with completing their degree,” says Justin Ortagus, an assistant professor of Higher Education Administration and the project’s principal investigator. Other members of the research team are co-principal investigators Isaac McFarlin and Dennis Kramer, both of whom are faculty members in the college’s Higher Education Administration and Policy program. The project is supported by a $300,000 grant from the nonprofit Helios Education Foundation.
Ortagus says the study could determine if a relatively low-cost directed text message campaign can help address a troubling issue: The rising number of students who drop out and never complete their college degree. Numerous studies have shown that students who complete a college degree have higher earnings and an improved quality of life when compared with those who don’t.
The research team has partnered on the 2017-2019 study with leaders at five large Florida community colleges — Broward, Hillsborough Community, Miami Dade, Palm Beach State and Valencia — because of their diverse student body and high enrollments.
With the help of the college leaders, they will examine several thousand students who failed to complete their degrees at participating colleges, Ortagus says. The students will be randomly assigned to one of three groups. Some will receive an text with re-enrollment and financial aid information before critical deadlines, others will get the same info and a small financial incentive, and a control group will receive only a single text message. The researchers will conduct a randomized, controlled trial and a survey to evaluate whether students re-enrolled and the overall effectiveness of the program.