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A behavioral "nudging" campaign at four community colleges improved student persistence rates, according to the report "Nudging to STEM Success" released Tuesday by Jobs For the Future, a nonprofit group, and the technology company Persistence Plus.

The experiment targeted 9,500 students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs at Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College and Stark State College in Ohio, and John Tyler Community College in Virginia. Students received text messages asking what supports they needed, as well as texts encouraging them to keep going.

For example, messages might tell students it's normal to be worried and ask them to think of what's helping them right now. They might also ask what students need and provide information on where to find services on campus.

The study found that 72 percent of students subscribed to the nudging texts persisted after their first semester of receiving them, compared to 56 percent of students who did not subscribe. The results were also positive for students of color and adult learners. For students of color, 62 percent who subscribed to nudges persisted, compared to 46 percent who didn't subscribe. For those over the age of 25, 64 percent who subscribed persisted, compared to 44 percent who didn't subscribe.

Over three terms, persistence rates of those who received nudges continued to be greater than those who opted out of the service. The experiment also allowed students to answer questions, providing insight to colleges about what stresses they face.

The positive results contrast with a nationalized 2019 study of nudging that encouraged 800,000 students to apply for federal financial aid and didn't improve enrollment rates.

Three of the four colleges plan to continue using nudging strategies, according to the report.