Rhode to College: Evaluation of a Program to Increase College Enrollment Among Low-Income Students

Can a light-touch intervention that provides information, nudges, and financial incentives to high-achieving, low-income students help them apply for and get into college?

Low-income students enroll in college at significantly lower rates than higher-income students due to barriers such as financial circumstances, college costs, lack of strong academic preparation, and access to information. To reinforce low-income students’ efforts to make and carry out informed college plans, Hastings and colleagues have developed the Rhode to College (R2C) intervention in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Education and the College Board. Students receive information and reminders via a text messaging program and financial incentives for completing discrete steps (“milestones”) of the college application and enrollment process. In this study, the team will: 1) measure the impact of R2C on milestone completion, progress toward college enrollment, and college enrollment; 2) investigate how impact varies to understand mechanisms of the program’s impact; and 3) prepare a scalable how-to guide to share with other districts and states. To measure the impact of the program on college preparation and academic achievement, the team will use a regression discontinuity design with longitudinal student-level data. The team will estimate the impact of R2C with comparisons of students close to the threshold in the same cohort and students who cross the threshold but do not receive R2C in another cohort for which the program was not available. To investigate whether impact varies by baseline knowledge, the team will regress outcomes on a college readiness index generated from a baseline survey. For both sets of analyses, the team will use type of machine learning that optimizes the selection of controls and increases the precision of estimates. Ultimately the team hopes that the intervention can provide a feasible strategy for increasing college enrollment for low-income youth.