Curbing Adult Student Attrition: Evidence from a Field Experiment

by Raj Chande, Michael Luca, Michael Sanders, Xian-Zhi Soon, Oana Borcan, Netta Barak-Corren, Elizabeth Linos, Elspeth Kirkman & Sean Robinson

Overview — This paper by Michael Luca and colleagues demonstrates how insights from behavioral economics can improve attendance habits among adults in literacy and numeracy programs. In a field experiment consisting of 1,179 adult learners in England, the authors sent behaviorally-informed text messages and organizational reminders to students. The messages led to large increases in attendance rates, and the effects persisted over the three weeks of the campaign. This simple intervention provides a low cost approach for organizations looking to improve attendance and engagement.

Author Abstract

Roughly 20% of adults in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) lack basic numeracy and literacy skills. In the UK, many colleges offer fully government-subsidized adult education programs to improve these skills. Constructing a unique dataset consisting of weekly attendance records for 1,179 students, we find that approximately 25% of learners stop attending these programs in the first 10 weeks and that average attendance rates deteriorate by 20% in that time. We implement a large-scale field experiment in which we send encouraging text messages to students. Our initial results show that these simple text messages reduce the proportion of students that stop attending by 36% and lead to a 7% increase in average attendance relative to the control group. The effects on attendance rates persist through the three weeks of available data following the initial intervention.

Paper Information