Simple Way to Increase College Retention and Completion Rates

In College Life on Jul 01, 2016

A Stanford University study, Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), showed significant improvements in outcomes for low-income, minority and other socioeconomically disadvantaged students if they are told that everybody experiences challenges during the transition to college and that the challenges will get easier with the passage of time.

The Stanford researchers conducted three randomized, case-controlled, double-blind experiments to evaluate the impact of providing this counseling online before matriculation. All of the students were academically prepared for college.

The experiments yielded the following results for students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds who received the social-belonging intervention as compared with students who received a growth-mindset intervention (increase student confidence that skills can be learned) and controls who received neither intervention:

  • Increases in first-year full-time college enrollment among students who enrolled at a public flagship university or graduated from a high-performing charter high school
  • Increases in first-year grade point averages and retention among students who enrolled at a selective private university

These results reduced the institutional achievement gaps between students from disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged backgrounds by about a third.

The interventions yielded no improvement in outcomes for non-disadvantaged students.

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