In Israel, high school graduates can earn a practical engineering diploma, which is a professional degree awarded by technical colleges. These studies are a combination of practical vocational training and broader theoretical studies. The Israeli National Institute for Technical Training (NITT), which operates within the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, sets the criteria and regulates these studies, covering over 70 colleges and more than 30 fields of study. To graduate with a diploma, students are required to complete around 2,000 academic hours; to undertake standardized national certification exams; and to submit a final project which demonstrates the acquired knowledge and requires the application of practical skills. As in academic studies in Israel, the government regulates tuition and subsidizes the cost of training.
Israeli technical colleges, like many post-secondary educational settings, struggle with low graduation rates (or high drop-out rates). In 2016, it was estimated that only 49% of students enrolled in Israel’s technical colleges completed their course of study and only 63% of those who completed all courses were eventually eligible to receive a practical engineer’s diploma. In comparison, the drop-out rate among academic college students in Israel is only 8,7% (Feniger et al., 2016).
The timely submission and defense of the final project was pointed out as the main reason for failing to graduate (Ministry of Economy and Industry, 2017) and is therefore targeted in our intervention, which is focused on increasing the percentage of students who submitted and successfully defended their final project, thereby increasing the percentage of students who graduate with diplomas.
We partner with the NITT (National Institute for Technical Training) and use a randomized control methodology with randomization within matched pairs of college-by-major units, and ask how pre-announced deadlines and reminders affect completion and graduation rates, graduation timing, and for what type of students the intervention is more effective. Study participants included 4,900 students from 89 departments (major by college) in 33 technical colleges in Israel. Departments were randomly assigned to either the control group (43 departments or the experimental (treatment) group (46 departments). The experiment focused on four study majors: architecture, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and software programming.
Procedure and data collection:
The experimental intervention consists in recommending a deadline for making a project proposal and setting a specific deadline for the final submission (well in advance of the date) combined with sending text message (SMS) to students in treated departments, including motivational messages and reminders about upcoming deadlines. Control group departments use “business as usual” where no pre-defined deadline is set for proposal or project submission, but instead, defenses are scheduled on a rolling bases when at least 10 students are ready to submit and defend their project.
A short follow up survey will be administrated to students via SMS and email. The survey includes questions on the students' educational and labor market history, their attitudes and motivation for studying, and their labor market expectations. Students can choose to take the survey in either Hebrew or Arabic.