Leveling Up: A Behavioral Nudge to Increase Enrollment in Advanced Coursework

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Study and Title Author: “Leveling Up: A Behavioral Nudge to Increase Enrollment in Advanced Coursework” by Megan Austin, Ben Backes, Dan Goldhaber, Dory Li, and Francie Streich.

Study Purpose: The purpose of the study was to assess the impact of Washington State’s Academic Acceleration policy which automatically enrolled qualified students in advanced coursework, including dual enrollment. The study assessed how the auto-enrollment policy impacted enrollment in advanced coursework overall and for Students of Color and low-income students. 

Summary of Study’s Findings: The authors conducted a series of analyses for different outcomes and different groups of students, and three primary findings resonated with me as I reviewed the study. First, the policy resulted in about a 5% increase in the likelihood of enrollment in any advanced course for all students, regardless of whether the student qualified for advanced coursework or not. In other words, the policy seemed to have a broader impact than the qualified students who were auto-enrolled. Second, the policy narrowed equity gaps in advanced coursework participation. Relative to their more advantaged peers, the policy led to a 2-4% in the likelihood of enrollment in advanced ELA/social studies and math courses for Students of Color and low-income students, regardless of qualified status. And third, when the authors examined the impact of Academic Acceleration on the subset of students that were eligible/qualified for advanced coursework, the results were mixed. Some analyses showed positive impacts and some showed negative impacts. The authors speculate that the mixed results could be due to local capacity constraints or that eligible / qualified student still had the option to opt-out of advanced coursework after they were auto-enrolled. 

Study’s Implications: The authors described the implications of this study best on page 23 of the paper noting, “These results suggest that making advanced courses [including dual enrollment] opt out rather than opt in may change students’ opportunities to enroll in advanced courses.” This is a simple yet powerful assertion, particularly because some data on local implementation of the policy found that some schools began using multiple measures and more holistic approaches to advanced coursework eligibility because of the policy. That is, the policy likely helped some schools reconceptualize restrictive eligibility policies and expand access to advanced coursework. This study is one of the first on auto-enrollment policies for dual enrollment and it should be replicated in other contexts and extended. For example, future research needs to explore the success rates of students who are auto-enrolled in advanced coursework to ensure that the policy is not unintentionally harming students. 

How to Access the Research: The publication is available on the website for the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research

Spotlight Author: Jason Taylor