Text Messaging Initiative Nudges STEM Students Toward Success

A new project is tapping into mobile technology to boost community college completion for students in STEM fields. Nudging to STEM Success — a joint initiative from Persistence Plus, maker of a mobile app for student success, and nonprofit Jobs for the Future — will use text messages to help students "navigate the complexities of college, succeed in STEM studies and move toward college graduation," according to a news announcement. The project is funded by the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

The Persistence Plus platform sends students interactive text messages to "nudge" them along the path to degree completion. The software takes into account students' real-time responses and provides personalized support according to each user's individual needs. For the Nudging to STEM Success project, the text message nudges will "employ strategies based on behavioral science and social psychology to address challenges that students encounter in introductory STEM courses," the announcement said. The goal is to help students:

  • Develop a strong college-completion and STEM identity;
  • Connect STEM studies to personal goals;
  • Utilize campus resources like tutoring, advising and financial aid; and
  • Address barriers and misconceptions that hinder student success.

"A nudge designed to encourage students to seek help and build their academic network might say: 'JTCC students who meet with a STEM professor outside of class find it rewarding and helpful. Will you commit to talking to a prof in the next week?'" the announcement explained. "This language — based on research on the power of social norms and implementation intentions — establishes networking with a professor as a normal and expected part of the college experience, as well as asks the student to commit to a specific plan for doing so."

Four community colleges will receive $50,000 grants to implement the nudges of the next two years: Lakeland Community College (OH), Lorain County Community College (OH), Stark State College (OH) and John Tyler Community College (VA). Students at the colleges will start receiving text message nudges this fall. Jobs for the Future plans to document and share "best practices for how colleges implement the nudges and integrate the platform into existing student support and retention strategies." In addition, a blog series will feature success stories from the program.

"College completion rates and STEM success are two deeply important factors for the fundamental future of our workforce," said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of Jobs for the Future, in a statement. "As JFF is now focusing on more partnerships between traditional systems and innovative disrupters, such as with Persistence Plus, we are excited to work with them to implement cutting-edge technology on a large scale, which could potentially generate lasting, positive results for students across the country in years to come."

"Supporting community college students' success in STEM goes beyond academics," commented Jill Frankfort, president and co-founder of Persistence Plus. "Research shows that students, particularly those underrepresented in STEM, need to develop an image of themselves as a STEM learner, connect with STEM mentors and peers, and make a clear link between their studies and their goals for themselves and their communities. This partnership is an exciting opportunity for leveraging this knowledge to help tens of thousands of students stay on the pathway to a degree and a rewarding STEM career."

For more information on the Nudging to STEM Success initiative, go to the Jobs for the Future site.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is executive editor for Campus Technology. She can be reached at rkelly@1105media.com.