The effect of financial education in college

Last registered on February 21, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

The effect of financial education in college
Initial registration date
February 17, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
February 21, 2023, 10:09 AM EST

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.



Primary Investigator

Pennsylvania State University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Pennsylvania State Universtiy

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial is based on or builds upon one or more prior RCTs.
Outstanding student debt has almost doubled in the past decade to over $1.7 trillion. Delayed graduation contributes to the student debt burden by increasing tuition payments without any additional wage premium. Behavioral theory suggests that young adults are prone to biases limiting their ability to connect short-run actions with long-run outcomes. We attempt to correct these biases using a low-touch financial literacy intervention within a randomized encouragement design at Pennsylvania State University, a large public university. We randomly invite and incentivize students to participate in an online tutorial connecting short-run academic success to long-run debt obligations and examine differences in academic outcomes. We will examine the effect on credit accumulation, retention, and GPAs. We will also examine the effect for subgroups of interest including those more at risk of delayed graduation.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Brent, Daniel and Douglas Wrenn. 2023. "The effect of financial education in college." AEA RCT Registry. February 21.
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details


Our intervention is a tutorial on financial literacy that connects academic effort and performance to financial consequences. Our financial literacy tutorial is structured in four parts: (1) questions pertaining to each student's financial situation; (2) questions soliciting baseline financial literacy knowledge; (3) information on the benefits and costs of college and how short-run decisions may impact long-run outcomes; and (4) information about existing financial literacy resources at Penn State. The tutorial takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and is delivered online via Qualtrics We track student responses to each question as well as clicks and time information to track how long students spend on each question and section. In Part (3) that provides instead of elicits information we force students to spend 15 seconds on each page before progressing to encourage them to carefully read all the material.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Credits earned, grade point average, retention.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Credits earned is the number of academic credits earned at Penn State.
Grade point average is the student's average grade.
Retention is the probability of being enrolled in Spring 2022 conditional on being enrolled in Fall 2021. We will also look at enrollment for Fall 2022.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Our experiment is based on a randomized encouragement design. We randomize students into one of three groups: a true control, an email offer or an incentive offer. The true control cannot participate in the intervention so we have one-sided non-compliance. Students randomized into an offer either receive an email invitation, or an email invitation with a $10 incentive to complete the tutorial. We conduct the randomization by cohort: first, second, and third year students based on their academic standing. The second year students had one additional treatment arm: an incentive in the form of a campus bookstore gift card which was a requirement from one of the sponsors. We stratified the randomization by underrepresented minority status, first-generation college student status, in-state tuition status, and quartiles of the admissions evaluation criteria.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Stratified random sampling done on a computer using R.
Randomization Unit
Individual student.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
23158 = individual students
Sample size: planned number of observations
115790, five semesters of data for each student
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Control: 11603
Email only: 2368
Cash: 6911
Gift Card: 2276
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
The power for the ATT for the first semester: MDE Credits: 0.61, mean=14.76; std=3.35, percentage= 4.2% MDE GPA: 0.10, mean=3.41; std=0.54, percentage= 2.9% MDE Retain: 0.04, mean=0.94; std=0.24, percentage= 4.7% For the full data that has five semesters of data assuming intracluster correlation of 0.66 MDE Credits: 0.53, mean=14.76; std=3.35, percentage= 3.5% MDE GPA: 0.08, mean=3.41; std=0.54, percentage= 2.5% MDE Retain: 0.04, mean=0.94; std=0.24, percentage=4% The compliance rate of 20% is conservative given that the compliance rate of a pilot study was 24%.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Pennsylvania State University
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Analysis Plan

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Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials