Nudging Students Towards Better Borrowing Decisions
Last registered on May 23, 2019


Trial Information
General Information
Nudging Students Towards Better Borrowing Decisions
Initial registration date
February 21, 2015
Last updated
May 23, 2019 6:47 PM EDT
Primary Investigator
Vanderbilt University
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Additional Trial Information
On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
This project investigates how students make decisions around the financing of their college education and the impacts these decisions have on educational outcomes. Specifically, we investigate how the framing of loan offers and provision of additional information about student loan options affects students' borrowing decisions and postsecondary outcomes. This research project will consist of a set of randomized controlled trials over the presentation of loan offers at anonmyous community colleges. The first experiment, conducted over the 2015-16 academic year, involved random assignment of nonbinding student loan offers. Students’ ability to borrow did not vary: all students will have the option to borrow up to their maximum federal loan eligibility, and only the framing of the choice (e.g. whether or not a particular loan amount is referenced) was affected. Students’ financial and academic outcomes will be tracked for five years, with information on borrowing and academic outcomes obtained from institutional administrative data and a match to the National Student Clearinghouse. The second experiment, conducted over the 2016-17 academic year, involved random assignment of emails to students who had recieved their financial aid award information (including student loan offers) but had not year made their borrowing decisions. Emails included information relevant for students' borrowing decisions: that students could borrow an amount different than that listed in their award letter, the average conditional amount borrowed per year by past graduates, and the average unconditional amount borrowed per year by past geaduates. This project will improve our understanding of college students’ financial decision making and will provide guidance to help colleges across the country package and provide information about student loans to best serve their students’ needs.
Registration Citation
Marx, Benjamin and Lesley Turner. 2019. "Nudging Students Towards Better Borrowing Decisions." AEA RCT Registry. May 23.
Former Citation
Marx, Benjamin, Lesley Turner and Lesley Turner. 2019. "Nudging Students Towards Better Borrowing Decisions." AEA RCT Registry. May 23.
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Experimental Details
This project involves anonmyous community colleges. At each site, the intervention involves changes in the presentation or provision of information about federal Stafford Loan options. This intervention will not affect students’ access to loans; in all cases students will be completely free to opt in, opt out, or change their loan amount in accordance with the rules of the student loan program. Additionally, upon completing an application for federal student aid – a prerequisite for receiving federal student aid – students are notified by the US Department of Education of their eligibility for federal loans. Thus, all students in our study will also be informed of their loan eligibility.

At the first experimental site, students in the treatment group will receive a financial aid award letter listing a combination of subsidized and unsubsidized loans (determined by student need) equal to $3500 (first-year students) or $4500 (second-year students). Students assigned to the control group will be presented with a loan amount of zero regardless of student level or dependency status.

At the second experimental site, students who had received a financial aid award letter (which included nonzero loan offers) but who had not yet made a borrowing decision less than a month before the start of the fall semester were randomly assigned to recieve one of four emails. All students received an email reminding students to make a borrowing decision and informing them of the steps to do so. Control group emails contained no additional information. The email to the students assigned to the three treatment groups also contained a statement that they could borrow an amount other than that listed on their award letter. Students assigned to the second and third treatment groups were informed of the average annual conditional amount borrowed by past graduates ($3000) or the average annual unconditional amount borrowed by past graduates ($800).
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Financial outcomes (e.g., federal loan take-up and amounts, other debt take-up and amounts, loan repayment outcomes, and others where available).

Educational outcomes (e.g., enrollment, persistence, credits attempted and earned, GPA, major and/or degree program, degree receipt, transfers, and others where available).
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Postsecondary attainment (e.g., credits attempted and earned, degree or credential receipt, grade point average)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
At each of the three sites, students who are at least 18 years old who have submitted a FAFSA will be included in the intervention. Randomization is stratified by student type (e.g., new versus returning), student level (e.g., first- versus second-year, determined by cumulative credits earned including transfer credits), outstanding loan debt, expected family contribution, dependency status, and unmet need (which determines eligibility for subsidized loan aid).

Researchers are provided with a list of students who have completed their federal student aid application. This list includes a research ID as well as the relevant variables for determining which stratum a student belongs to. The research team will conduct the random assignment and return to each school a list of research ids and the relevant treatment assignment. This procedure will take place on a regular basis.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization by computer. On a regular basis, experimental sites send a list of subjects (identified by a research id and strata). The project RA will run a program that allocates subjects into treatment group(s) and send the list back to the experimental site, which will in turn, implement the treatment(s).
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Approximately 56,000 students
Sample size: planned number of observations
Approximately 56,000 students
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Site 1: approximately 10,000 students assigned to the treatment and control groups, for a total sample size of approximately 20,000 students.
Site 2: approximately 3,000 students assigned to one of four groups (control, treatments 1 through 3), for a total sample size of approximately 12,000 students.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Institutional Review Board (IRB)
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
IRB Name
University of Maryland College Park IRB
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Is the intervention completed?
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Program Files
Program Files
Reports and Papers
Preliminary Reports
Relevant Papers