From Community Insights to Action: Part-Time Student Nudges


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At Coastline Community College, part-time students make up 85% of the students population — largely distance learning students who take classes online, via a hybrid model or through self-paced programs. We have more than 30 years of experience in distance learning and catering to students with flexibility is not only a priority but also a competitive advantage for the institution. Issue 3 of Community Insights explored 1.4 million student records to understand the current state and opportunities to better support students like the many who attend Coastline on a part-time basis. The report revealed that these students’ likelihood to succeed may increase if they take just one more course — not necessarily a full-time load.


Florida International University, Coastline Community College District and Harper College share how they nudged their part-time students to add just one more course to their schedules, plus early student feedback and results.
At Coastline, we took this insight to action immediately and reached out to nearly 3,000 part-time students, encouraging them to add one more course to their schedule. Our goal was to help students accelerate their progression — to save them not only time but money. Moreover, those additions to students’ schedules help fill classes with open seats which makes the most of our institutional resources. A single nudge to part-time students has even resulted in student response that has helped us identify gaps as we work on Guided Pathways.
Coordinating the Nudge
I worked personally with our institutional research staff to pull up lists of our students currently enrolled in 6 units or less. We found approximately 2,600 students — across our gen ed and various degree programs. Managing student response was straightforward as many of the students who responded had program-specific questions, which I could route very quickly to the right person. As a matter of fact, student response was very exciting to manage. I’m certain we strengthened our relationships with our students as a result of this nudge.
Designing the Nudge
We wanted to let our students know that we cared about them and that it was still possible to add a course and be successful this term. The nudge came from me personally — this worked well for the campaign because students were pleased to see my name as the sender, and to hear directly from the Dean. The most challenging part was keeping the email short! We used resources in the Civitas Learning Nudge Hub for strategies to include meaningful content in a very short message. The Nudge Hub templates were a good starting point, and we leveraged concepts of mattering and mindset as we worked on refining the message.
Sending the Nudge
We sent the nudge 2-3 weeks before classes started, during our enrollment period, so that anyone with priority registration would have already registered for as many courses as they thought they could take.
Student Response
Students were very thankful. They responded with requests for more information about classes and questions about what classes would count toward their degree…
“Which class do you recommend I take?” “Would you be able to tell me the deadline to register for another class?” “Thanks for reaching out. Not sure if you can help me or direct me in the right direction but I don’t see the class that I’m enrolled in.” “Thanks so much for your help. I registered for Excel for Accounting.” “Thank you so much for your care. In my last two appointments my counselors mentioned I am done with my classes [but] If I would like to have some training in paralegal studies, where can I go?”
We also see student responses as data that will help us as we build our guided pathways framework. We have been able to identify gaps we weren’t aware of in terms of information and guidance our students require to make informed decisions along their journey to completion. We are already thinking of ways to make academic planning easier for our students so as to empower them along every step of the way.
What’s Next?
We recently attended a workshop with California schools hosted by Civitas Learning and although we arrived with some skeptics who thought we would inundate students with emails that they would never read… We left excited to continue to use nudges to affect behavior change in our students — as opposed to spending a lot of energy into posters, flyers, etc. Other examples of nudges include:
  • Students who applied but didn’t enroll in class got a nudge to remember to do so
  • Students in developmental math got a nudge over the summer to take a free skill-builder course so they could be prepared for math classes in the Spring
  • Students in our psychology program received a nudge reminding them that their classes were available and it was time for them to enroll
  • Students in our cohort-based STAR program get nudges to enroll for their next term
Our plan is to continue to work with IR, support staff and faculty on our next campaigns.

Dr. Dana Emerson

Dana is is the Dean of Instruction - English, Communication, Humanities, International Languages and ESL at Coastline Community College. She is Dean of Special Programs including Early College High School and is the institution’s lead for Predictive Analytics working with Civitas Learning.

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