Setting: This study will include students from all across the United States, from a broad range of demographic backgrounds and urban and rural geographic locations.
Sample: Study participants include 75,000 students in the national sample, and 16,000 students in the Texas sample. The national sample will be representative of PSAT takers in lower-income schools who will be high school juniors in 2014-15. The Texas sample will include students from urban and rural districts serving large proportions of low-income students.
Intervention: Two text-messaging interventions, with one providing additional planning guidance for completing complex college-related activities, will be implemented in this study. In the national sample, equal numbers of students will receive each of the interventions, while students in the Texas sample will receive only the enhanced intervention. Beginning as high school juniors, students in Treatment Group 1 will receive text messages that provide reminders to complete discrete tasks related to college and financial aid (e.g., registering for college entrance exams). Students in Treatment Group 2 (enhanced) will receive these discrete task reminders, and a set of messages designed to encourage follow-through with more complex activities. Across both treatment groups, each text message will include the option to request help from a counselor, either at a call center (the national sample) or school (the Texas sample). Messages will continue through the summer after senior year. The text messages will include reminders and links to register for college entrance exams, apply for financial aid, and complete pre-matriculation tasks (e.g. orientation registration).
Research Design and Methods: The research team will implement a randomized controlled trial (RCT) design in order to estimate causal impacts of receiving a text-messaging intervention on students’ college-going outcomes. Researchers will randomize schools to Treatment Group 1, Treatment Group 2, or the Control Group in the national sample, and Treatment Group 2 or the Control Group in the Texas sample. After pairing schools, in groups of two or three, based on the college enrollment percentage in the high school class of 2013, they will randomly choose two schools from each pair within the national sample, and one school from each pair within the Texas sample to receive the intervention(s). Students will receive college-search and college-going advice as a function of the group to which their school was assigned. The research design will facilitate answering the following research questions:
What impact do text messages that give students information related to college search, application, FAFSA completion, and summer-specific college transition tasks have on whether high school students enroll in college, and which colleges students choose to attend?
Does the impact of text messaging on college-going outcomes differ by student characteristics?
How do students perceive the text messages? Do they find them helpful, and do they believe that the text messages impacted their postsecondary choices and preparation activities?
Are students who receive text messages more likely to seek assistance from a counselor than other students?
Control Condition: Students in the control group will receive the typical level of college-planning services offered by their school.
Key Measures: Investigators will examine the intervention's impact on both short-term process outcomes such as SAT registration, and longer-run outcomes such as college enrollment and persistence. The College Board will provide data on SAT registration and test-taking outcomes, and the National Student Clearinghouse will provide enrollment and persistence data. Researchers will also connect student responses to the text messages with data on completion of college-going tasks, to assess the mechanisms through which messaging influences students’ decisions and actions. Qualitative data will include responses to text-message queries, transcripts from student and counselor focus group panels, and responses to a post-intervention internet-based cell phone survey.
Data Analytic Strategy: With the data resulting from the RCT design, researchers will use regression analysis to assess intervention impacts. A multi-level model of students within schools will include students from the national and Texas samples, and will include student-level covariates to increase the efficiency of estimation. In addition, researchers will use qualitative methods to examine students’ text responses and perceptions of how the text messages influenced their college decisions. Qualitative researchers will code text message replies both inductively and deductively, by searching for emerging themes in student responses and by labeling responses according to hypothesized categories of student message use. They will code transcribed student and counselor focus group texts inductively. Multiple coders will be used for all qualitative data coding, and researchers will continue refining codes until ratings are reliable.