The Text Effect: Helping Poor Kids Get to College

Texting works in the short-term, but points to a larger problem

Text
(Image: iStock.com/mihailomilovanovic)

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

UNCF’s famous tagline is so very true. Yet, an enormity of mind-wasting goes on every year, especially in communities of color and low-income areas.

Astonishingly, there are effective, low-cost interventions that if implemented, could make a big difference in the lives of young people.

Knowledgeable Adults

 

I remember the first time my son and I filled out the FAFSA. I had taken a free financial aid class for parents, where I had filled out a practice sheet. I repeatedly referred to the practice sheet to make sure we were doing everything correctly. I didn’t want to do anything wrong and cause my son to get less aid than he qualified for.

After that first time, filling out the form wasn’t bad at all. I learned that the key was setting aside enough time to do it, so I wasn’t rushed. Afterward, I usually rewarded myself with a nice cup of hot cocoa.

But suppose I didn’t speak English? Or didn’t have a computer? Or had a disability? Or worked two or three jobs and couldn’t set aside the time? Or had a chaotic home life? Any of these would have made the task daunting.

So, making sure that students have access to knowledgeable adults who can steer them through the college and financial aid application process would help enormously. But, it also helps if students receive guiding texts.

The Text Effect

 

According to The New York Times, texting is showing great promise as a way to keep low-income students on track—at a cost of less than $7 a student. The texts are simple reminders—and they seem to work.

The Times wrote the following, as an example:

“’Hi, Alex!’ a typical text might say. ‘Have you chosen your courses yet? Deadline is 8/15. Need to register? www.tinyurl.com/courses. Need help? Text back to talk w/ an adviser.'”

The article continues:

In a pilot study that enlisted nearly 5,000 students, 72% of low-income students who received the message followed through and enrolled in college, compared with 66.4% who didn’t get this information.”

I’m all for whatever works to get low-income kids into schools and prepare them to succeed.

However, the effectiveness of texting may point to a greater need these kids have: planning skills. I’ve written before that planning skills should be explicitly taught to kids from low-wealth communities. Equipping poor kids from day-one with the knowledge that they can plan and manage their time, and that solutions to difficult problems can come from within—instead of an external text—will empower them for the rest of their lives.

 

 


Robin White Goode is the education editor at Black Enterprise. Follow her on Twitter: @robinwhitegoode.