#RealCollege Blog

Oct 19, 2021

4 min read

Sometimes a Little Nudge Goes a Long Way

By: Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab and Joshua Rudolph; The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice

In our 2021 #RealCollege report, we at The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice find disparities between the number of students with basic needs insecurity, and the number of students that use basic needs supports. Some demographics show up to a thirty-seven-point difference. If you suspect students at your college aren’t getting the support they need, our most recent study shows that there’s an easy and inexpensive way to help them.

If your college doesn’t have a centralized basic needs hub, it should. Here’s how you can get started.

In 2018, we teamed up with Amarillo College in Texas, a two-year college with one of the best basic needs hubs in the country, to see if we could boost the number of students visiting the school’s Advocacy and Resource Center (ARC) while spending almost no money. We also wanted to see if students who visited the ARC did better academically. We used a simple technique called “nudging”, basically just sending monthly personalized emails to students with info on available supports.

To see if nudging works for students, we randomly selected 1,000 students from two groups we thought would benefit most from visiting the ARC: students from low-income households and students enrolled in developmental education classes. ARC staff nudged the selected students. We compared the results of the nudged students to a control group of the same population after a year of monthly nudging. Don’t worry — all students from both control groups still had access to the ARC.

Nudging . Here’s what we saw:

  • Rates of visiting the ARC more than doubled from 22% of students in the selected population to 56%.
  • Connecting students to basic needs supports helped them make academic progress. Students in developmental education classes who ARC nudged to get support passed their dev ed classes 20% more often than students who did not receive nudges.
  • Nudging students is affordable for colleges with basic needs hubs. Nudging takes little time and money compared to other efforts. If your staff has some time and your college has basic needs supports, nudging is worth trying.

How to Nudge Students to Use Basic Needs Supports

  1. Make a list of basic needs supports your college offers. Every student has different needs. Make sure to include as many supports as possible in your email so students know there are supports for them.
  2. Find an event to tie the email to, like welcoming students back to campus.
  3. Write up your email and start nudging students!
  4. Text nudging is also an option — but we found good results from email nudges.

Here’s a sample email from ARC to give you some ideas:

To make their email effective, the ARC team…

  • Personalized the emails, addressing them to students’ first names.
  • Tied content back to campus and campus events.
  • Described supports available to all students so students know they’re eligible.
  • Emphasized that many supports exist to counter concerns about resource scarcity.

You can read our full report on nudging at Amarillo College here.

We recommend that you start nudging your students to access supports at your college. It’s a low-cost and time-efficient way to help students meet their basic needs. When they meet their basic needs, they do better in school. Even better — use nudging in addition to bringing systemic changes to your college. If you do try nudging, let us know! Find us on Twitter @hope4college and let us know how nudging works for you.