Program overview

  • Boosting college persistence: Text message-based financial aid nudge programs provide college students with reminders about tasks and deadlines related to reapplying for financial aid. Such programs aim to increase the number of students who re-enroll in college by helping them maintain their financial aid for the next year.

  • Sending reminders and resources: The text messages sent by financial aid nudge programs vary based on upcoming financial aid deadlines. For instance, starting in mid-winter, programs remind students to renew their Free Application for Financial Assistance (FAFSA), while the following summer outreach centers on reviewing financial aid awards and paying tuition bills. All text messages provide institution-specific information (e.g., a specific college’s aid deadline) and contact information for a financial aid advisor.

  • Collaboration between nonprofits and higher education: Typically, financial aid nudge programs are run by college access nonprofit organizations, which hire financial aid advisors who contact and respond to inquiries from students. These nonprofits work closely with colleges and universities to identify eligible students and clarify institution-specific deadlines and contact information.

Cost per Participant
$5 per student

A single study with a rigorous design provides some evidence for text message-based financial aid nudges as a strategy for increasing college persistence.

  • A 2015 randomized controlled trial found that freshmen at community colleges who received text message nudges were almost 14 percentage points more likely to remain continuously enrolled through the spring of their sophomore year.
  • Use partnerships to build trust and awareness: For students to opt into text message-based nudges, they need to trust the organization and advisor sending them. Working with official college or university sources and established student groups to notify students about the outreach effort can strengthen its sense of legitimacy and promote up-take.
  • Keep in regular contact with institutional partners: To help students navigate the financial aid process, advisors need up-to-date information about the financial aid process at each institution their students attend. Establishing regular contact between the financial aid nudge program and institutional financial aid offices can ensure deadlines, contact information, and resources are accurately communicated.

  • Personalize outreach to each student: When financial aid advisors understand where each student is in the financial aid process, they can tailor outreach to meet each student’s needs. As such, financial aid nudge programs should establish a process with institutional partners to allow advisors limited access to students’ financial aid information.

  • Encourage students to be proactive: The financial aid process can require either a significant time investment and other advanced preparation (e.g., securing tax information for the FAFSA). Financial aid nudge programs should send reminders well in advance of important deadlines and provide follow-up reminders as the deadline nears.

  • Provide advisors with a portal to organize communication: Financial aid advisors typically conduct outreach to hundreds of students. Creating a web-based interface for advisors to send and receive messages allows advisors to better organize outgoing messages and to respond to inquiries more quickly.