Supporting the Whole Community College Student: The Impact of Nudging for Basic Needs Insecurity

Supporting the Whole Community College Student: The Impact of Nudging for Basic Needs Insecurity

Even after decades of improvement efforts, completion rates at community colleges remain low, particularly among students who need developmental education. Basic needs insecurity contributes to these low completion rates. As a result, community colleges throughout the country have launched benefits “hubs” to help students secure their basic needs. However, there is limited evidence on whether connecting students with these hubs improves academic success.

This report details an evaluation of the Advocacy and Resource Center (ARC), a benefits hub at Amarillo College (AC) in Texas. In partnership with AC, we conducted an evaluation to advance two institutional goals:

  1. Increase utilization of the ARC, particularly among students most at risk of leaving college, with a low-cost technology-enabled approach.
  2. Estimate the academic impacts of connecting students to the ARC.

Over the course of a year, we emailed randomly selected students from low-income households and those enrolled in developmental education coursework, informing them about and inviting them to the ARC. We found that the emails (or “nudges”) paid off for students who received them:

  • Rates of visiting the ARC more than doubled from 22% to 56%.
  • Developmental education students nudged to visit the ARC were 20% more likely to pass developmental education courses, a crucial milestone.

However, we did not find clear evidence that nudged students completed more credits, received higher grades, or passed other courses at higher rates.

As community colleges across the nation work to improve student success and help students recover from the pandemic, this evaluation offers two lessons:

  • Insufficient information about existing basic needs supports keeps students from getting the help they need. The information barrier may be effectively overcome with personalized nudging, a low-cost solution.
  • Connecting students to basic needs supports helps students make academic progress, particularly those in need of developmental education.

This report is part of our Amarillo College project.