MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science (CABS) and Postsecondary Education policy area launched The Finish Line: Graduation by Design to improve college completion rates using behavioral insights. Graduating from college is a challenge, particularly for low‐income and nontraditional students, who often face personal, institutional, and structural barriers to success.
The number of credits that students attempt each semester and students’ academic performance are well‐documented predictors of graduation. Yet, most community college students enroll in fewer than 15 credits per semester, making it nearly impossible for them to graduate in two years. Many of these students also struggle academically, failing to make satisfactory academic progress, halting their progress altogether, and losing financial aid. What can be done about these types of challenges?
Behavioral science helps to explain why some of these barriers to graduation are difficult to overcome. For example, a common pattern of students enrolling full time but later switching to part time may be a sign of optimism bias, when people believe that they have a lower risk of experiencing a negative outcome compared with others. While some students may believe they will still be able to earn their degree even after they switch to part‐time status, many are not realistic in assessing this likelihood. Developing interventions based on these types of behavioral insights may generate promising solutions to the stubborn problem of low graduation rates.