ISSUE

As many as 40% of college-bound high school graduates from underserved communities leave high school with college acceptance letters in hand, yet fail to show up for classes in the fall.

The reason: Students must complete a series of crucial tasks over the summer to finalize their financial aid, register for orientation, confirm campus housing and so on. It can be a withering gauntlet for any student, but especially for students who are first in their families to go to college.

When they graduate high school, students generally leave behind the support of the counselors who helped them gain admission and apply for financial aid. They're on their own, often for the first time, just as they reach the final hurdles on the way into college.

SOLUTION

A bit of well-timed outreach to prospective college freshmen the summer after high school makes a difference. Sending a handful of short texts about steps students need to take, with links to encourage immediate action whenever possible and invitations to text back for more help, substantially increases the share who successfully enroll come fall. That’s the conclusion of multiple studies by Dr. Ben Castleman at the University of Virginia and Dr. Lindsay Page at the University of Pittsburgh.

We’re applying this evidence-based practice through Text Steps, our first grant to help expand summer melt texting programs across Wisconsin. We selected 14 public school districts with large populations of students from low-income households to ensure the programs serve students who have the most to gain from additional support during summer months. While access to mobile phone technology continues to expand, we recognize that disparities in cellphone access persist for the poorest families. We will work with the districts to better understand and remove barriers to student participation.

We awarded the 14 districts a combined $630,000 in start-up funding to launch text nudging programs to help increase on-time college enrollment rates. Our Text Steps grant partners will form a learning community led by a dedicated Great Lakes program officer, who will coach the districts through all stages of program development; provide data and technology support; and facilitate conversations with experienced colleagues and national experts.

Text Steps builds on knowledge gained through a 2015 grant in which we commissioned Dr. Castleman to study what it took for three Wisconsin public school districts to design, launch and administer summer texting programs. His evaluation of the implementation process at the School District of Janesville, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) and Stevens Point Area Public School District informed our 2015-2016 "Lessons Learned" Report.

We continued to support MMSD in fine-tuning its summer nudging program, and as of summer 2018, the district is independently funding the intervention. Our goals for Text Steps are the same: (1) to guide school districts through the implementation phase, (2) to help them measure and share the program’s impact, and (3) to encourage them to identify and allocate resources to continue the program after the grant period ends. We’re pleased to note that conversations about sustainability have already begun in some of our newest partner districts.

We look forward to discovering more about the process of implementing texting programs as our Text Steps learning community helps more students of color, students from low-income households and first-generation students get to college on day one. We will share new knowledge with the field to help guide other high schools interested in adopting this proven practice.

RECIPIENTS

Adams-Friendship Area School District

Friendship, WI

$37,275

Unified School District of Antigo

Antigo, WI

$37,275

School District of Fort Atkinson

Fort Atkinson, WI

$37,275

Green Bay Area Public School District

Green Bay, WI

$47,100

School District of La Crosse

La Crosse, WI

$47,100

School District of Monroe

Monroe, WI

$37,275

Racine Unified School District

Racine, WI

$47,100

St. Francis School District

St. Francis, WI

$37,275

Sheboygan Area School District

Sheboygan, WI

$47,100

School District of South Milwaukee

South Milwaukee, WI

$37,275

Tomahawk School District

Tomahawk, WI

$37,275

Watertown Unified School District

Watertown, WI

$37,275

West Allis-West Milwaukee School District

West Allis, WI

$47,100

Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools

Wisconsin Rapids, WI

$47,100

QUESTIONS

Contact Program Officer Carolynn Lee at clee2@glhec.org or (608) 504-6599.