Jobs for the Future and Persistence Plus Launch Initiative Using Behavioral Science to Help Students Complete Community College and Earn a STEM Degree

Published aug. 23, 2017

“Nudges” for STEM Success Will Engage 10K+ Students over Text Messaging

Rachel Dobbs, Solomon McCown,
Jill Frankfort, Persistence Plus,

Boston, MA – (August 23, 2017) – Today, Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Persistence Plus launched Nudging to STEM Success, a joint initiative funded by the Helmsley Charitable Trust that leverages behavioral science and mobile technology to increase community college completion, particularly for STEM students. Starting this fall, tens of thousands of students will receive evidence-based behavioral nudges over text message to help them navigate the complexities of college, succeed in STEM studies and move toward college graduation. JFF is partnering with Persistence Plus to strengthen student success rates broadly, and in particular in STEM pathways, as STEM fields are in high demand and offer strong opportunities for economic mobility.

Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers with less than a bachelor’s degree, offering a pathway to economic prosperity for low-income students who enroll disproportionately at community colleges. However, 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. Emerging evidence shows that well-timed nudges grounded in behavioral science can help more students get to and stay in college.

Over the next two years, this initiative will help four community colleges, granted $50,000 each, to implement nudges at a large scale, providing an example of how colleges can use nudging to increase STEM success and degrees. Colleges were selected in a competitive process, chosen from a pool of institutions that established STEM middle skills pathways in a previous Helmsley-funded initiative with JFF, the Middle-Skill STEM Pathways Initiative.

  • Lakeland Community College, Kirtland, OH
  • Lorain County Community College, Elyria, OH
  • Stark State College, North Canton, OH
  • John Tyler Community College, Chester, VA

“College completion rates and STEM success are two deeply important factors for the fundamental future of our workforce,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of Jobs for the Future. “As JFF is now focusing on more partnerships between traditional systems and innovative disrupters, such as with Persistence Plus, we are excited to work with them to implement cutting-edge technology on a large scale, which could potentially generate lasting, positive results for students across the country in years to come.”

Developed by the Persistence Plus research team, the text message nudges employ strategies based on behavioral science and social psychology to address challenges that students encounter in introductory STEM courses and motivate students to make decisions that will lead to a degree. The nudges are delivered with intelligent software that reacts to real-time student responses, ensuring that students receive differentiated support at scale. The nudges are designed to help students:

  • Develop a strong college-completion and STEM identity
  • Connect STEM studies to personal values and goals
  • Utilize college supports like tutoring, advising and financial aid
  • Reveal and address hidden barriers and misconceptions that hinder student success

For example, a nudge designed to encourage students to seek help and build their academic network might say: “JTCC students who meet with a STEM professor outside of class find it rewarding and helpful. Will you commit to talking to a prof in the next week?” This language—based on research on the power of social norms and implementation intentions—establishes networking with a professor as a normal and expected part of the college experience, as well as asks the student to commit to a specific plan for doing so. See an example here.

“Supporting community college students’ success in STEM goes beyond academics,” said Jill Frankfort, president and co-founder of Persistence Plus. “Research shows that students, particularly those underrepresented in STEM, need to develop an image of themselves as a STEM learner, connect with STEM mentors and peers, and make a clear link between their studies and their goals for themselves and their communities. This partnership is an exciting opportunity for leveraging this knowledge to help tens of thousands of students stay on the pathway to a degree and a rewarding STEM career.”

Persistence Plus designs and delivers nudging interventions for specific college populations, including entering community college students, near completers, and now STEM students. In experimental studies and with partners, Persistence Plus has seen a two to nine percentage point increase in student persistence to the next term in college after implementing its model. Results also show a significant impact for students with historically lower graduation rates, including first-generation college goers and working adults attending school.

JFF will study and document best practices for how colleges implement the nudges and integrate the platform into existing student support and retention strategies. JFF will also share how to use this type of technology at scale and use it to maximize other student support efforts.

JFF and Persistence Plus are launching a blog series on the impact of the program. It will feature success stories from students and colleges who are seeing the results from the program in real-time. Click here for more information and to stay updated on this initiative’s progress.

Click here to watch a demonstration of a nudge in action.




Jobs for the Future (JFF) 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. We leverage behavioral nudging, mobile technology and an intelligent software solution to engage and uniquely support students. Results show that Persistence Plus students persist through college at greater rates than students without the service. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter.