Program overview

  • Increasing summer enrollment in community college: Encouraging Additional Summer Enrollment (EASE) is a behavioral intervention designed by MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science and used by community colleges to increase enrollment in summer term courses. Summer courses serve as an opportunity for students to earn additional credits toward their degree.

  • Reducing barriers to summer enrollment: EASE includes both an informational campaign and tuition assistance opportunity. The informational campaign relies on proven strategies from behavioral science such as nudges and reminders to encourage enrollment in summer courses. The tuition assistance reduces cost as a potential barrier to summer term enrollment.

  • Conducting an informational campaign: EASE sends frequent, strategically messaged communications to students throughout the summer enrollment period via email, mail, and text message. These communications include reminders about registration deadlines, testimonials from students who have previously taken summer courses, and plan-making prompts related to selecting and registering for courses.

  • Providing tuition assistance to reduce financial barriers: There are two supports offered in addition to informational messaging. First, EASE offers a tuition assistance grant that covers the entire difference between students’ summer tuition and their remaining financial aid. Second, EASE provides students with information on their remaining financial aid balance and instructions on any remaining financial aid (e.g., Pell Grants) that can be used to cover the cost of summer courses.

One study with a rigorous design provides some evidence for EASE as a strategy for increasing summer enrollment and credit accumulation among community college students.

  • A 2020 randomized controlled trial found that students who received EASE informational messaging and tuition assistance were 12.2 percentage points more likely to enroll in summer courses and earned an average of 0.52 additional credits over the summer, relative to members of the control group. In addition, participating colleges experienced a positive return on investment via increased tuition and receipt of performance-based state funding.
  • Implement the intervention with fidelity: The materials and messaging developed for the EASE intervention were created by experts in behavioral science and thoroughly tested. Colleges implementing EASE should follow the existing strategies and materials as closely as possible, customizing when necessary to reflect their local context. Colleges should refer to the Practitioner Guide for templates as well as guidance on where modifications can and should be made.

  • Conduct readiness assessment prior to implementation: Implementing EASE requires changes to official communications and financial aid processes. As such, community colleges should conduct a readiness assessment prior to implementation. This may include organizing student focus groups, conducting interviews with administrators, reviewing existing communication materials, and conducting an analysis of previous summer registration trends and financial aid usage.

  • Identify a reliable funding stream for the tuition assistance grant: The funding source for the tuition assistance grant may differ across colleges. Colleges may choose to repurpose other existing institutional funding, apply for funding from their college foundation, or seek funding from external corporate or philanthropic partners. If a college is facing financial constraints, they may also choose to limit the availability of the tuition assistance grant to students with the most need, such as those with an expected family contribution of $0.

  • Incorporate summer coursework in course schedule framework for students: Many students may be hesitant to participate in summer courses because they view them as remedial. In order to mitigate this, college departments should include summer coursework in the degree plans provided to students, including illustrations of the degree completion tracks with and without summer coursework. This can normalize summer coursework and show students its potential benefits.

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