I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around higher ed. This week I reflect on some promising results of experiments in “nudging” and highlight recent news on how high gas prices and baby-formula shortages are playing out on college campuses.

The science of text nudges is growing. That’s a good thing.

Research on the value of sending students text-message “nudges” continues to hit my inbox. One new experiment, conducted at — you guessed it — Georgia State University, shows that such nudges can lead to higher grades. Another, at Delaware Technical Community College, shows that text messages help lift enrollment and re-enrollment in allied-health programs, especially among Black students and others (like men) typically underrepresented in those fields.

Until recently, text nudges have been used primarily in nonacademic realms: to avert summer melt among first-year students, for example, or to issue reminders for administrative deadlines (think registering for courses or re-filing the FAFSA). And of course, results have shown that not all nudges are equal. Their success depends on their content, form, and timing, among other factors. These two new studies push our understanding of the science of nudges in higher ed a little further, toward academic progress.

Delaware Tech used text messages to connect students’ “personal values to their pursuit of health-care credentials, reframe misconceptions about who belongs in allied health, and appreciate the everyday practical utility of what they learn in class.” Such supportive counseling is more common in STEM fields, and not necessarily via text. If this approach keeps working, the payoff for the health-care sector, where demand is high for ethnically and racially diverse providers, could be huge.

In fact, one researcher on the project told me last month that colleagues at other community colleges are already applying the lessons, “to educate a new generation of healthcare workers who better reflect the communities in which they live and work.” And the approach could also apply to other career pathways.

Georgia State deployed chatbots powered by artificial intelligence to increase students’ engagement in an introductory online course on government. Why there? It was the kind of high-enrollment course in which students nationally tend to struggle to connect with instructors and peers. The findings suggest that text messaging could directly influence a core academic experience.

I won’t get deep into the particulars of each study, but the Georgia State one involved the company Mainstay and its AI chatbot technology, and the Delaware Tech one used the services of the company Persistence Plus. For me, what’s important is that these experiments are being conducted and evaluated, and the results published. That makes it easier for other colleges to see what works in what contexts — and also the limits of these interventions. Keep ‘em coming.

Check these out.

Here are some education-related items from other outlets that recently caught my eye. Did I miss a good one? Let me know.

  • Americans are slightly less skeptical of science than they were before the pandemic, according to polling reported in 3M’s “State of Science Index 2022,” but “continue to be more skeptical of science than their global counterparts.” Americans also showed “less concern for environmental issues” than respondents in other countries did.
  • “The nation’s baby formula shortage has left families desperate for ways to feed their children, and student parents are no exception,” Diverse Issues in Higher Education reports. While the federal government and many states have begun to respond to the problem, experts cited in the piece emphasized the need for colleges to reach out to student parents, many of whom are low-income, and to collaborate and share resources, “particularly over the coming summer months.”
  • Rising Covid-19 rates aren’t the only factors driving classes (back) online. So are high gas prices and inflation, at least at Southwest Tennessee Community College, in Memphis. It has moved to “virtual Fridays” for its summer session, according to a report by WREG News Channel 3. College officials said they hoped the shift would “put more money in the pockets of students struggling with inflation and the record gas prices, and keep them in school.”
  • Some findings that should give college leaders pause: The percentage of Gen Z high-school students considering a four-year degree dropped to 51 percent in January 2022 from 71 percent in May 2020, according to a series of surveys conducted by ECMC and Vice Media. The surveys also found that high-school students were concerned about the cost of college and the burden of student debt. Nearly half of the teens surveyed said their post-high-school education should last less than four years, a summary of the findings, “Question the Quo,” notes — and that skills should be taught hands-on in small classes or through on-the-job opportunities.

See you at JFF Horizons next week in New Orleans?

It feels great to be out and about again — even if I’m still wearing that attractive N95 indoors. Next week, I’m excited to be attending Jobs for the Future’s annual Horizons meeting, in New Orleans, where the agenda includes dozens of talks and sessions on transforming the education and work-force systems, both timely as enrollment in college is in decline, and employers are struggling to fill jobs. It’ll be my first time taking part in this meeting in person. If you’re attending (or have a colleague who is), and you have some ideas to share, I hope we connect. Perhaps even over a beignet or a po’ boy?

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

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