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How Small Changes Can Help Districts Have Big Effects on How Students Apply to College

How Small Changes Can Help Districts Have Big Effects on How Students Apply to College

Lindsay Page, assistant professor of research methodology at the School of Education and a research scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, recently wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review advising districts on how they can make small changes that have big effects on how their students apply to college.

Two of the most effective ways Page says districts can impact the success of their students’ application process are:

  • encouraging them to apply to several schools to allow "for a real set of choices"
  • helping them navigate the complex financial aid application process that many students don’t take advantage of

Page's advice stems from her efforts to create a toolkit that can be used by policymakers and school leaders to improve how students apply to college in the most cost-efficient way possible.

"My goal has been to create a tool kit for policy makers and administrators that is grounded in insights from behavioral economics, with an eye toward low-cost, scalable interventions," Page says in the article.

One successful method Page champions for is a design created by her and her colleagues that communicates to high school seniors about the FAFSA process via automated text messages.

"[T]he system was able to sort students according to district-held data on student FAFSA filing and customize outreach according to their actual status. People who needed to file their forms got nudged to do so, but those who had completed the forms received information on next steps. This targeted outreach lead to earlier and improved rates of FAFSA filing that translated to improved rates of college enrollment," she said.

Page’s recommendations, she notes, are designed to be small, manageable tweaks versus sweeping reform to ensure that all districts regardless of their financial resources can make change. 

"Applying to college will always be stressful. But if districts do their part, students can navigate the process more successfully, and the small changes that help to simplify it will translate to higher chances of lifelong success," she concludes.

Read the full article here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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