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'Nudging' At-Risk Students Improves Performance

FILE - A high school student looks at a mobile phone in his Pennsylvania classroom in this Nov. 22, 2010 photo.

In the United States, if your parents attended a college or university, there is a good chance that you will, too.

But your chances are reduced if you come from a family with financial needs, a community with limited educational resources or have no one to follow as an example.

Helping those attain a college education is the motivation behind “nudging” or nudge theory, a way of changing people’s behavior through suggestion and support. Popularized in the 2008 book "Nudge," the concept was a project of a legal expert and an economist with the University of Chicago.

Nudging includes emailing and texting students, offering advice and help. A growing number of U.S. colleges and universities look to nudging as way to support poor, minority and first-generation college students.

But recent studies show that nudging is imperfect, and influencing large groups of students is not easy.

Alejandra Acosta is a higher education policy expert at New America, an independent research group. She said for the messages to be effective, they should meet certain benchmarks, such as:

* A nudge must be time-sensitive, meaning they reach college students well before the date a student is required to take action.

* A nudge should also be informative and written clearly. For example, if a student starts to struggle in class, school officials should offer more information than simply advising them to seek academic support, Acosta said. The message should include what kinds of support the college or university offers and how the student can make use of them.

* A nudge should be interactive, she added. Students should be able to ask questions or be directed to a website. Colleges and universities must ensure their support services are in place and working.

“You can’t expect to just send a nudge in a text or an email and be like, ‘OK, we’re done,’” Acosta said. “To change behavior, there has to be other supporting structures there, too.”

When nudges work, they can do a lot of good.

In 2017, a nudging campaign at four U.S. community colleges targeted nearly 10,000 first-year students in Ohio and Virginia. Older and minority students who agreed to receive nudges were 16 percent to 20 percent more likely to continue into their second year than those who did not.

However, Iris Palmer, a senior adviser for higher education and the workforce at New America, warns that even clear, informative and timely nudges can sometimes hurt more than help.

“An example of this would be: I’m a student who has never been to college before, my family has never been to college before. I come to college and I wonder if I’m college material,” Palmer said. “I get a message that says, ‘You’re getting a failing grade in this class. You need to come talk to your adviser.’

"And I think, ‘Oh, I’m failing. I wasn’t even college material to begin with. I should just leave now,' " she said.

Palmer said school officials should shape nudges to fit a student’s needs, including having nudge messages offer alternative solutions, as well as seeming to offer the student more than one option.

Nudges need to be personal and individual, appearing to be written for the individual, not a large group, she said.

Kelly Rosinger, assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies at Penn State University, agrees. Nudging can be a low cost, useful way of getting students to meet relatively simple goals on time, she said, such as completing the U.S. government documents necessary for financial aid.

In fact, Rosinger said nudging has not been successful when dealing with large groups.

Rosinger and researchers studied nudging of more than 800,000 students through emails and text messages. Their study found that nudging had almost no effect on the number of students starting college, using financial aid or continuing from one year to the next.

Rosinger said she believed the study showed nudges failed because they were trying to reach a large number of students. This made the messages seem more general and, as a result, less effective. She suggested nudging works best when it comes from a local group working with a smaller numbers of students.

“Just getting a message from an organization you are familiar with can create more of that personalization,” she said. “It may make the message more salient to students when they’re getting it.”

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Justin is a service dog and accompanied his owner (who graduated with honors) to every single class for four years. The student’s university honored the dog’s hard work with his very own diploma, which he accepted, tail wagging, in front a cheering stadium of other graduates.

See Justin’s walk across the stage in this story from Bill Chappell of NPR. (May 2023)

What Are US Diplomats Doing to Further International Education?

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in Denver, Colorado, April 28, 2023.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken touted his department’s achievements in a recent address to NAFSA: Association of International Educators. The State Department has relaxed student visa and study abroad requirements. In fact, it issued over a half-million student visas last year – the highest number in five years. Blinken, who spent part of his childhood in France, thanked educators for “helping us to see the world through another’s eyes.”

Watch his remarks in this press release from the State Department. (May 2023)

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, learning lagged for students around the world, including the U.S., where many had access to online learning. Now these soon-to-be graduates say they are behind in certain subjects because of time missed at school. VOA’s Laurel Bowman sat down with high school seniors on the cusp of graduation. Camera: Adam Greenbaum, Saqib Ul Islam.

Former US Congresswoman Liz Cheney Urges Graduates Not to Compromise With the Truth

Former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a Republican who represented Wyoming, delivers the commencement address at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 28, 2023.

Former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney implored new college graduates to not compromise when it comes to the truth, excoriating her House Republican colleagues for not doing enough to combat former President Donald Trump's lies that the 2020 election was stolen.

In a commencement speech at Colorado College, the Wyoming Republican repeated her fierce criticisms of Trump but steered clear of talking about his 2024 reelection campaign or her own political future.

Cheney, who graduated from Colorado College in 1988, recalled being a political science student walking into a campus building where a Bible verse was inscribed above the entrance that read, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

"After the 2020 election and the attack of January 6th, my fellow Republicans wanted me to lie. They wanted me to say the 2020 election was stolen, the attack of January 6th wasn't a big deal, and Donald Trump wasn't dangerous," Cheney said Sunday in Colorado Springs, connecting her experiences as a student to her work in the U.S. House of Representatives. "I had to choose between lying and losing my position in House leadership."

In three terms in office, Cheney rose to the No. 3 GOP leadership position in the House, a job she lost after voting to impeach Trump for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and then not relenting in her criticism of the former president.

Cheney's speech touched on themes similar to those she has promoted since leaving office in January: addressing her work on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and standing up to the threat she believes Trump poses to democracy. She also encouraged more women to run for office and criticized one of the election-denying attorneys who worked for Trump after the 2020 election for recent remarks about college students voting.

"Cleta Mitchell, an election denier and adviser to former President Trump, told a gathering of Republicans recently that it is crucially important to make sure that college students don't vote," Cheney said. "Those who are trying to unravel the foundations of our republic, who are threatening the rule of law and the sanctity of our elections, know they can't succeed if you vote."

In an audio recording of Mitchell's presentation from a recent Republican National Committee retreat, she warns of polling places on college campuses and the ease of voting as potential problems, The Washington Post reported.

Most students and parents in the audience applauded throughout Cheney's remarks, yet some booed. Some students opposing the choice of Cheney as speaker turned their chairs away from the stage as she spoke.

Cheney's busy speaking schedule and subject matter have fueled speculation about whether she may enter the 2024 GOP presidential primary since she left office. Candidates ranging from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have calibrated their remarks about Trump, aiming to counter his attacks without alienating the supporters that won him the White House seven years ago.

Though some have offered measured criticisms, no declared or potential challenger has embraced anti-Trump messaging to the same extent as Cheney. She did not reference her plans on Sunday but has previously said she remains undecided about whether she wants to run for president.

Though she would face an uphill battle, Cheney's fierce anti-Trump stance and her role as vice chairwoman of the House committee elevated her platform high enough to call on a national network of donors and Trump critics to support a White House run.

A super PAC organized to support of her candidacy has remained active, including purchasing attack ads on New Hampshire airwaves against Trump this month.

After leaving office and being replaced by a Trump-backed Republican who defeated her in last year's primary, Cheney was appointed to a professorship at the University of Virginia and wrote "Oath and Honor," a memoir scheduled to hit shelves in November.

Two of Cheney's five children as well as her mother are also graduates of the liberal arts college.

Cheney's speaking tour appears to be picking up. She is scheduled to appear Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan.

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FILE - Afghan university students chant slogans and hold placards during a protest against the ban on university education for women, in Quetta, Pakistan, Dec. 24, 2022.

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