The College Foundation of West Virginia (CFWV) has developed a pilot project that utilizes text-messaging to promote college access and support student success at the postsecondary level. The project provides a series of interventions to students attending high schools currently served by the West Virginia GEAR UP program.
Working in conjunction with the Kresge Foundation and a researcher from the University of Virginia, Ben Castleman, CFWV staff members have designed a project that utilizes text-messages to provide students with personalized information that they need to complete critical college-preparation tasks and to adjust to campus life. The messages also will connect students with counselors and other personnel who can provide individualized assistance.Four public higher education institutions have agreed to serve as partners in the three-year pilot project and evaluative study.
The proposed project is simple in its design:
In utilizing the text-messaging medium, this project seeks to achieve six core objectives:
CFWV staff members are working initially with four colleges and universities (one two-year institution and three four-year institutions) and 14 feeder high schools to pilot the project. The effort will target schools and students served by the federally funded GEAR UP program. Using the GEAR UP program as a framework will maximize available resources and provide an incubator for new programming by making use of existing staff, as well as high school, college and university, and community partnerships.
The pilot project will provide text-message interventions and linked services to approximately 3,000 students over the course of three years — 1,000 each in the high school graduating classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016.
Who can participate in this project?
For at least the first year, only those students who are attending a high school that is part of the West Virginia GEAR UP high school will receive text messages.
But won’t other students (other than those listed as eligible) see the opt-in field on their college applications and other college-planning materials?
Yes, the opt-in field will visible on college application and planning forms that are used statewide. Other students can choose to provide their information so that they can receive messages if the program is expanded beyond the pilot group.
Which high schools are part of the West Virginia GEAR UP program?
Clay County High School
Lincoln County High School
Mingo Central High School
Mount View High School
River View High School
Roane County High School
Scott High School
Sherman High School
Summers County High School
Tug Valley High School
Webster County High School
Westside High School
Wirt County High School
Wyoming County East High School
Which colleges are partners in the texting program?
Bluefield State College
Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College
Do you plan to expand the program?
Yes. This project is a pilot program, meaning that -- at first -- we are only offering the service to a limited number of participants in order to test its effectiveness and work out any glitches. However, assuming the project is successful, CFWV plans to expand services to additional students in the coming years.
Is there a cost for students to participate?
Standard text-messaging rates apply. Students can opt-out of the program at any time.
Will eligible students automatically receive text messages?
No. Students have the opportunity to choose to receive these messages by completing the opt-in form on some college applications, on the PROMISE Scholarship application, and during the account sign-up process on CFWV.com.
What/Who is CFWV?
The College Foundation of West Virginia (CFWV) is a statewide initiative led by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (a state agency) working in collaboration with the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education, the West Virginia Department of Education, and the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts.
Studies indicate that low-income students graduate from college at only about half the rate of their higher income peers — even when they are equally qualified academically. Many scholars now assert that low-income students are the most underrepresented demographic group in higher education and that closing this achievement gap is one of the surest ways to address America’s myriad social and economic woes.
Sadly, basic college preparation and enrollment processes often serve as major hurdles for first-generation and low-income students. As a result, the path from application to enrollment is often a treacherous one. Many students fail to complete critical financial aid and enrollment forms in the spring of their senior year. Many more lose their ways during the three months of isolation that often characterizes the summer between their high school and college careers. And unfortunately, even those who make it to a college campus often drop off in their first year of undergraduate study — returning home in debt and demoralized.
CFWV seeks to address these gaps by developing low-cost support structures to guide students from the fall of their 12th grade year through their first year of postsecondary study. Previous studies suggest that increasing students’ access to information not only aids them in understanding and valuing the college preparation process, but also evens the playing field for low-income students who do not often have access to college information through their personal connections or resources.
Use of the text message medium to deliver straightforward and personalized college-planning information offers a low-cost, low-maintenance method to increase students’ utilization of valuable resources and services already being provided through high schools and institutions of higher education. If funded, the program will expand on previous studies conducted by Dr. Castleman and colleagues at Harvard University, in which the researchers collaborated with school districts to randomly select high school graduates and their parents to receive text reminders of important tasks to complete in order to matriculate in college. The text messages were customized to the institutions students planned to attend and provided timely reminders of important tasks to complete, like registering for freshman orientation.
The text intervention impacts were largest among students who qualified for free- or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). These students were more than four percentage points more likely to enroll in college than FRPL students who were not selected to receive the messages. Among students who lived in communities with low levels of educational attainment and few college-going supports for students, students who were randomly assigned to receive the text messages were over seven percentage points more likely to enroll in college than students who did not receive the messages.
Providing personalized information to students via text message is a promising approach to both inform students of required college-preparation tasks and connect them with professional staff when they need additional assistance. Text messaging is one of the primary means by which college-aged youth communicate. Research in other social services fields documents positive impacts resulting from text-messaging campaigns in achieving desired outcomes, such as whether individuals get a flu vaccination or make financial contributions to a savings account.
Research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that “nearly half of all 18-29 year olds (45%) who use the internet on their cell phones do most of their online browsing on their mobile device.” The same report also found that “those with an annual household income of less than $50,000 per year and those who have not graduated college are more likely than those with higher levels of income and education to use their phones for most of their online browsing.” Thus, connecting with students via their cell phone is a promising way to extend services to high-need students who may not be utilizing other online resources.
Furthermore, text messaging is an efficient and cost-effective outreach strategy. Messages can be automated but still personalized, allowing the Commission and its partner institutions to serve a large volume of students.
Castleman, Arnold & Wartman. (2012)
Thayer. (2000). Vargas (2004).
Arnold et al. (2009); Castleman, Arnold & Wartman (2012); Castleman & Page (forthcoming); Castleman, Page & Schooley. (2012)
West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. (2010)
National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 2008; West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (2012)
Oreopoulus and Dunn. (2012).
National Center for Education Statistics. (2001).
Castleman & Page (2013)
Karlan et al. (2010); Krishna, Boren & Balas. (2009)