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New Study Raises Questions About Benefits of Text Messaging to Increase College Enrollment Among Low-Income Students

Rockville, Md.  –  A new study from Abt Global demonstrates the difficulty of helping low-income students enroll and persist in college. At the same time, it adds to the body of evidence testing new approaches to support college completion for this population.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a U.S. Department of Education college preparation program that’s available to states and school districts. Using text messaging is a popular behavioral nudge strategy to give students timely information and connections to advisors to help their transition to college.

Abt evaluated the strategy’s efficacy. Despite the previously established promise of text-based nudge strategies, the college transition messaging didn’t increase enrollment or persistence, but the evaluation findings provide guidance that can help hone in on different messaging strategies that may be more effective.

For the study, approximately 4,800 college-intending seniors in low-income, high-need GEAR UP high schools across the country were randomly divided into two groups: one received their regular GEAR UP supports in the summer before and during their first year of college, and the other group received these regular supports along with 37 text messages customized to their college and the option to communicate with an advisor. The study compared the experiences and college enrollment patterns of the two groups of students to determine the effectiveness of the transition messaging.


  • Text messages did not impact enrollment or persistence. Students who received text messages were no more likely to enroll or persist in college than were other students. The messaging did not increase college enrollment in the fall after high school or through the first year and into a second year of college.
  • Students may need more specific information. The information students and advisors shared may have been among the factors that limited its effectiveness. A broad caseload may have made it difficult for advisors to provide additional college-specific guidance that might have proved more beneficial.
  • Other support may eclipse the benefits of behavioral nudges. Participants may have already received more support than students in other  texting studies that showed more promise, thus the change in behavior in the GEAR UP students would be less notable.

“These findings will help build our knowlege of how behavioral nudges can offer the most support to students,” said project director Tamara Linkow, a principal associate at Abt.

Read the full study at: Study of College Transition Messaging in GEAR UP: Impacts on Enrolling and Staying in College

About Abt Global
Abt Global is a global consulting and research firm that uses data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people’s lives. From combatting infectious disease and conducting rigorous program evaluations, to ensuring safe drinking water and promoting access to affordable housing—and more—we partner with clients and communities to tackle their most complex challenges.

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