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Student Coaching: How Far Can Technology Go?

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  • Philip Oreopoulos
  • Uros Petronijevic

Abstract

Recent studies show that programs offering structured, one-on-one coaching and tutoring tend to have large effects on the academic outcomes of both high school and college students. These programs are often costly to implement and difficult to scale, however, calling into question whether making them available to large student populations is feasible. In contrast, interventions that rely on technology to maintain low-touch contact with students can be implemented at large scale and minimal cost but with the risk of not being as effective as one-on-one, in-person assistance. In this paper, we test whether the effects of coaching programs can be replicated at scale by using technology to reach a larger population of students. We work with a sample of over four thousand undergraduate students from a large Canadian university, randomly assigning students into one of the following three interventions: (i) a one-time online exercise designed to affirm students’ values and goals; (ii) a text messaging campaign that provides students with academic advice, information, and motivation; and (iii) a personal coaching service, in which students are matched with upper-year undergraduate coaches. We find large positive effects from the coaching program, as coached students realize a 0.3 standard deviation increase in average grades and a 0.35 standard deviation increase in GPA. In contrast, we find no effects from either the online exercise or the text messaging campaign on any academic outcome, both in the general student population and across several student subgroups. A comparison of the key features of the text messaging campaign and the coaching service suggests that proactively and regularly initiating conversations with students and working to establish trust are important design features to incorporate in future interventions that use technology to reach large populations of students.

Suggested Citation

  • Philip Oreopoulos & Uros Petronijevic, 2016. "Student Coaching: How Far Can Technology Go?," NBER Working Papers 22630, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22630
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    1. Philip Oreopoulos & Daniel Lang & Joshua Angrist, 2009. "Incentives and Services for College Achievement: Evidence from a Randomized Trial," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 136-163, January.
    2. Philippe Belley & Lance Lochner, 2007. "The Changing Role of Family Income and Ability in Determining Educational Achievement," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 37-89.
    3. Kraft, Matthew A. & Rogers, Todd, 2015. "The underutilized potential of teacher-to-parent communication: Evidence from a field experiment," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 49-63.
    4. Bound, John & Turner, Sarah, 2007. "Cohort crowding: How resources affect collegiate attainment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(5-6), pages 877-899, June.
    5. John Bound & Michael F. Lovenheim & Sarah Turner, 2012. "Increasing Time to Baccalaureate Degree in the United States," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 7(4), pages 375-424, September.
    6. Susan E. Mayer & Ariel Kalil & Philip Oreopoulos & Sebastian Gallegos, 2015. "Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Parental Engagement: The Parents and Children Together (PACT) Intervention," NBER Working Papers 21602, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Benjamin L. Castleman & Lindsay C. Page, 2016. "Freshman Year Financial Aid Nudges: An Experiment to Increase FAFSA Renewal and College Persistence," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 51(2), pages 389-415.
    8. Beattie, Graham & Laliberté, Jean-William P. & Oreopoulos, Philip, 2018. "Thrivers and divers: Using non-academic measures to predict college success and failure," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 170-182.
    9. Eric P. Bettinger & Bridget Terry Long & Philip Oreopoulos & Lisa Sanbonmatsu, 2012. "The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block Fafsa Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(3), pages 1205-1242.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pugatch, Todd & Wilson, Nicholas, 2018. "Nudging study habits: A field experiment on peer tutoring in higher education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 151-161.
    2. Pugatch, Todd & Wilson, Nicholas, 2020. "Nudging Demand for Academic Support Services: Experimental and Structural Evidence from Higher Education," GLO Discussion Paper Series 675, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    3. Andrews, Rodney J. & Imberman, Scott A. & Lovenheim, Michael F., 2020. "Recruiting and supporting low-income, high-achieving students at flagship universities," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 74(C).
    4. Damgaard, Mette Trier & Nielsen, Helena Skyt, 2018. "Nudging in education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 313-342.
    5. Beattie, Graham & Laliberté, Jean-William P. & Michaud-Leclerc, Catherine & Oreopoulos, Philip, 2019. "What sets college thrivers and divers apart? A contrast in study habits, attitudes, and mental health," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 178(C), pages 50-53.
    6. Adam M. Lavecchia & Philip Oreopoulos & Robert S. Brown, 2020. "Long-Run Effects from Comprehensive Student Support: Evidence from Pathways to Education," American Economic Review: Insights, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 209-224, June.
    7. Oreopoulos, Philip, 2020. "Promises and Limitations of Nudging in Education," IZA Discussion Papers 13718, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Oreopoulos, Philip & Petronijevic, Uros & Logel, Christine & Beattie, Graham, 2020. "Improving non-academic student outcomes using online and text-message coaching," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 171(C), pages 342-360.
    9. Christopher R. Dobronyi & Philip Oreopoulos & Uros Petronijevic, 2017. "Goal Setting, Academic Reminders, and College Success: A Large-Scale Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 23738, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Beattie, Graham & Laliberté, Jean-William P. & Oreopoulos, Philip, 2018. "Thrivers and divers: Using non-academic measures to predict college success and failure," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 170-182.
    11. Alfredo Alvarado & Belén Conde & Rafael Novella & Andrea Repetto, 2020. "NEETs in Latin America and the Caribbean: Skills, Aspirations, and Information," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 32(8), pages 1273-1307, November.
    12. Peter Leopold S. Bergman & Eric W. Chan, 2017. "Leveraging Technology to Engage Parents at Scale: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial," CESifo Working Paper Series 6493, CESifo.
    13. Jacobus Cilliers & Brahm Fleisch & Cas Prinsloo & Stephen Taylor, 2018. "How to improve teaching practice? Experimental comparison of centralized training and in-classroom coaching," Working Papers 15/2018, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    14. Canaan, Serena & Deeb, Antoine & Mouganie, Pierre, 2019. "Advisor Value-Added and Student Outcomes: Evidence from Randomly Assigned College Advisors," IZA Discussion Papers 12739, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    15. Oreopoulos, Philip & Petronijevic, Uros, 2019. "The Remarkable Unresponsiveness of College Students to Nudging and What We Can Learn from It," IZA Discussion Papers 12460, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    16. Yi Lu & Hong Song, 2020. "The effect of educational technology on college students’ labor market performance," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 33(3), pages 1101-1126, July.
    17. Joshua Hyman, 2018. "Nudges, College Enrollment, and College Persistence: Evidence From a Statewide Experiment in Michigan," Working papers 2018-10, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    18. French, Robert & Oreopoulos, Philip, 2017. "Behavioral barriers transitioning to college," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 48-63.
    19. Ellis, Jimmy R. & Gershenson, Seth, 2020. "Gender, peer advising, and college success," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(C).
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    21. Meredith Phillips & Sarah J. Reber, 2019. "Does Virtual Advising Increase College Enrollment? Evidence from a Random Assignment College Access Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 26509, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J38 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Public Policy

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