Behavioral Nudging Model Increases Persistence in STEM Majors at Community Colleges

Published jan. 17, 2018

Students who received personalized mobile text “nudges” more likely to return for another year.



Eugenie J. Inniss, Jobs for the Future, 857.268.4180,

Jill Frankfort, Persistence Plus, 617.337.2622,

JANUARY 17, 2018—Boston, Massachusetts—Through a joint initiative by Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Persistence Plus, approximately 10,000 students at four leading community colleges in the United States are receiving personalized text message “nudges” that keep them on the path toward college completion and STEM success. A randomized trial this past summer with nearly 2,000 students showed that STEM students who received the nudges returned for the 2017 fall semester at a rate 10 percentage points higher than a control group of students who did not receive nudges. These are very promising results.

Community colleges make large contributions to the STEM workforce, producing over one-half of all STEM degrees. As a result, the Helmsley Charitable Trust funded the Nudging to STEM Success initiative to address the fact that over two-thirds of STEM associate’s degree candidates do not complete their STEM studies, with half switching to a non-STEM major and the other half leaving college without earning any degree or certification. The initiative’s purpose is to keep building student success rates broadly, and in particular in STEM fields that offer strong opportunities for economic advancement—STEM workers command higher wages, earning 29 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts.

“The initial results are very encouraging,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of JFF. “Through the use of personal, contextualized communications via text messages, students are more empowered to complete their degrees, colleges experience higher success rates, and STEM employers ultimately benefit with a more skilled workforce. We look forward to expanding impact and scale with Persistence Plus as we continue to partner in this work.”

The United States faces a projected shortage of workers for jobs that require STEM skills. Employment in STEM occupations grew much faster than non-STEM occupations over the last decade (24.4 percent versus 4 percent, respectively), and STEM occupations are expected to grow by 8.9 percent from 2014-2024, compared to 6.4 percent for non-STEM occupations.  For these reasons, good jobs in STEM fields will likely pay-off.

“In an era where STEM knowledge matters more than ever, we are thrilled that our behavioral nudging model is helping community college students interested in STEM make greater progress to a degree,” Persistence Plus President Jill Frankfort said. “By leveraging behavioral science in a personalized fashion through our platform, we’ve been able to help students navigate roadblocks such as issues with registration and financial aid, competing life obligations, and uncertainty about whether college or a STEM degree is for them, and ultimately ensure that STEM students stay on a pathway to greater economic success.”

Students interviewed about the service said that nudges helped them improve their time management, access resources like financial aid renewal, and feel more connected to their college. Karessa Kuczma, a nursing student at Lorain County Community College, said nudges have helped her to balance school with work and navigate coursework deadlines. “They’re helpful because sometimes I forget something and then go, ‘Oh yeah, I need to do that!’” Kuczma said. “When you’re busy and you get a text message—like I got one telling me to go see my advisor—that’s good.”


The initiative is helping these four leading community colleges implement nudges to increase STEM success and degrees for more than 10,000 students:

• Lakeland Community College, Kirtland, Ohio

• Lorain County Community College, Elyria, Ohio

• Stark State College, North Canton, Ohio

• John Tyler Community College, Chester, Virginia


“We are tremendously excited that supporting our students with nudges is already making a measurable impact on student success rates, particularly in the STEM pathways that lead to family-supporting careers and are critical to our region’s economic growth,” said Lorain County Community College President Dr. Marcia J. Ballinger. “These promising early results are prompting us to examine how to integrate nudging more deeply into our persistence and completion work.”

Click here for more information and to stay updated on this initiative’s progress.

Click here to watch a demonstration of nudging in action.



Jobs for the Future is a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States. JFF develops innovative programs and public policies that increase college readiness and career success, and build a more highly skilled, competitive workforce. With over 30 years of experience, JFF is a recognized national leader in bridging education and work to increase economic mobility and strengthen our economy. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter.



Persistence Plus helps colleges and nonprofit organizations propel tens of thousands of students to college success and a degree. Persistence Plus leverages behavioral nudging, mobile technology, and an intelligent software solution to engage and uniquely support students. Gold-standard evidence shows that the Persistence Plus model is helping students persist through college and graduate. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter.