Win-win: Spurring summer enrollment so students and schools don’t leave money on the table
Most community college students do not enroll in summer courses, slowing student progress toward degrees and leaving operating revenue on the table for schools. The Center for Applied Behavioral Science designed and tested two interventions to increase summer enrollment at 10 community colleges in Ohio. One intervention sent students messages (email, mail, and a postcard) that incorporated principles from behavioral science. The other sent students a similar informational campaign, plus offered a financial incentive called the Summer Scholar Grant, which covered any summer tuition that wasn’t already covered by financial aid.
For participating colleges, we found that these modest investments encouraging students to enroll more than pay for themselves—generating more revenue than their costs. Students in the interventions attempted and earned more credits, so colleges received additional tuition revenue and state revenue from performance funding. A win for both.
In the figure below, the blue bar shows the extra tuition and state revenue the colleges received as a result of the interventions. Colleges generate revenue through tuition and fees, and receive funding from their state and the federal government. The informational campaign generated an additional $69 per student ($48 in tuition revenue for the college and $21 per student in additional state funding). The more costly intervention that included the Summer Scholar Grant generated an additional $155 per student ($105 in additional tuition revenue and $50 in additional state funding).
The orange bar shows the cost of the interventions. The informational campaign (sent through emails and mail) cost an average of $15 per student), while the last-dollar grant with the informational campaign cost an average of $79 per student.
Subtracting the cost from the extra tuition and state revenue generated by the interventions demonstrates the Return on Investment, shown in the teal bar. The informational campaign increased revenue by $55 per student and the last-dollar grant paired with the informational campaign increased revenue by $76 per student.
At a school like Marion Technical Community College, which is a small college that served just over 200 Pell-eligible first-year students in summer 2017, the more costly intervention is estimated to generate $15,200 in additional revenue after accounting for costs, if offered to all eligible students. At Sinclair Community College, which served around 1,500 Pell-eligible first-year students in summer 2018, the potential revenue is even larger—the more costly intervention is estimated to generate $114,000 in additional revenue after accounting for costs, if offered to all eligible students.
We tested these interventions using a randomized controlled trial, the most rigorous form of evaluation. The study included 10,668 first-year community college students at 10 schools in Ohio. Findings are shared in this final report. While the effects of the interventions on overall credits earned, a measure of academic progress, were modest, both interventions benefited students and had a positive return on investment for colleges. A program or policy that is beneficial to students, helps colleges fill seats and meet performance goals, and raises more revenue than it costs seems worthy of consideration.
Colleges may want to consider launching these types of summer campaigns. Interested in implementing the interventions? Check out the EASE Handbook, which provides step-by-step instructions and sample messages to send.