Texting Campaign Focused on College Affordability Reaches Over Half a Million Students

Oct 07, 2016

Texting Campaign Focused on College Affordability Reaches Over Half a Million Students

This week more than half a million students in Texas and across the country began receiving text messages encouraging them to take advantage of new financial aid policies that allow students to apply for financial aid starting in October and to use tax returns that have already been filed.

The texting campaign is led by Ben Castleman, assistant professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, who has successfully tested the use of text messaging to improve education outcomes of students. Other campaign partners include The Common Application and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB); philanthropic supporter The Kresge Foundation; and a team of researchers, behavioral scientists, and creative design firms.

“We know that text messages can generate substantial increases in college enrollment and persistence,” Castleman said. “Big partnerships that pull together education agencies, interdisciplinary researchers, and creative expertise are critical to ensure these campaigns are successful when we bring them to statewide and national scale.”

The Common Application is a college admission and financial aid resource hub accessed by nearly two million students and school counselors each year. The organization is continuing the partnership with Castleman and colleagues to create and send text messages to students with information about the new federal financial aid policies. For the nearly 60% of Common App students who indicate financial need, the texts will help them to understand their aid eligibility and to factor this information in their college choices.

“With this partnership, we are able to further encourage all students, especially low-income and first-generation students, to complete the FAFSA early in order to maximize the amount of aid students receive,” said Scott Anderson, Senior Director for Education and Partnerships. “This will increase access to a broader range of affordable institutions where the student can grow and thrive.”

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Castleman are partnering to implement tailored text messaging campaigns for several cohorts of students. The first group includes students currently enrolled in Texas colleges. Text messages to these students will focus primarily on financial aid renewal. Additional cohorts will include “stopouts,” students who completed substantial credits and subsequently withdrew before completing a credential. A third cohort will include students who applied to college but did not enroll, with the goal of helping students make informed choices about pursuing their higher education goals.

“Informing students about financial aid and the various pathways to achieve a postsecondary credential is an important aspect of 60x30TX, the new strategic plan for higher education in Texas,” said the Coordinating Board’s Deputy Commissioner for Academic Planning and Policy David Gardner. “This texting campaign allows the state to expand on the Coordinating Board’s previous texting efforts to students that capitalize on what has become a commonly used mode of communication, enabling us to effectively reach these targeted student groups. The Coordinating Board is working with the Dallas County Community College District, El Paso Community College, the Houston Community College System, Texas State University, and the Apply TX system to target specific student groups with this texting campaign. ”

Combined, the THECB and The Common Application campaigns will reach nearly 600,000 students this fall.

These two initiatives are happening concurrently to Castleman’s efforts on behalf of First Lady Michelle Obama to launch "Up Next," a similar text messaging campaign to provide students across the country with guidance about college, financial aid, and loan repayment.

“It’s very exciting to partner with organizations that have such important relationships with and reach to students across the country,” said Castleman. “We want to ensure that every student in the country with aspirations to go to and succeed in college has the information and resources they need to make informed choices about their postsecondary pathways.”

Funding for both projects is provided by the Kresge Foundation.

“The changes to FAFSA this year have the potential to help students find out much earlier in the process what kind of financial support they will have for college,” said Rebecca Villarreal, program officer at The Kresge Foundation. “But those policy changes won’t make a difference if students aren’t aware. We believe this campaign will help potentially thousands of students get the extra money they need to pursue a degree.”