Leveraging behavioural insights to improve postsecondary outcomes

Efforts to help low-income students get to university have often focused on improving grades, but Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page show how lessons from behavioral science can also help

Policy makers have invested substantial resources in recent decades to improve postsecondary outcomes for economically disadvantaged students, yet substantial disparities in college access and success remain. The stubbornness of these inequalities – in the face of concerted policy efforts – is, at first glance, perplexing. For example, a sizable share of students who plan to go to college and who would be eligible for Pell Grant funds (a need-based grant to low-income students to promote access to postsecondary education) do not apply, even though the federal government has substantially increased the size of the Pell Grant. Why have such policy efforts not had a greater impact on reducing inequalities in who goes to and succeeds in college?

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December 2014