Behavioral Science May Help Students Persist in College

Behavioral Science May Help Students Persist in College

(Image: iStock/cranach)

It may not always be obvious, but in my writing I aim at emphasizing the positive—that is, not just reporting the bad news, and there is plenty, about education, but reporting on and discussing the positive, what works, what’s effective in extending educational equity and improving outcomes for underserved students.

This week Inside Higher Ed published a post on how behavioral science can be used to improve college students’ persistence. Rooted in behavioral science principles, these simple ideas have shown to help students navigate their way through college successfully.

They are—

  1. Helping students seek help
  2. Planning for, or expecting, the unexpected
  3. Making motivation and reflection part of the student’s daily experience

The Stigma of Help-Seeking

It’s crucial for students to be able to ask for help when they need it. The problem is, they don’t. Asking for help feels weak, but according to authors Kevin Kruger and Catherine Parkay, schools can flip the script and reduce that perception.

“For example, one institution texts incoming students a graphic showing why current students reach out to student affairs staff. The reasons included needing a sounding board for an important decision, wanting to explore career options before selecting a major, and desiring to celebrate an important academic milestone. Students have also received texts with factoids, such as the percentage of peers who already contacted their advisers.”


Plan for Contingencies

Maybe words like “help” and “support” are problematic.

I loved the article’s description of one school’s approach: It provides planning tools consisting of a short video and worksheet or checklist, to help students plan for contingencies: surprise expenses, loss of child care, or a work-related emergency, any of which could prevent their attending class or completing assignments.


Motivation and Reflection

Kruger and Parkay also describe the work of a student success coach who helps to make students’ goals more concrete and immediate, less distant. The writers state that “staying connected to one’s core motivation for pursuing education and taking time to reflect on the wins and lessons is vital for success.”

Yes, everyone’s education journey consists of ups and downs—the trick is overcoming the down times—to “keep trying until you succeed,” as John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, told me recently.

The coach in the article has students find an image that illustrates for them why they’re in college, and urges them to make it their phone home screen so they’re reminded of their goal every day.

To read more, visit Inside Higher Ed.