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Higher education researchers and policy experts have recently become interested in how psychological factors--such as student mindsets and motives--are associated with improving college completion. A new and growing body of research demonstrates the effect that a college's practices and policies have on students' psychological factors. While post-secondary institutions vary considerably in their missions, resources, and student bodies, the findings suggest that programs and initiatives aimed at raising college completion can be enhanced when they consider the unique psychological elements of the students at their specific schools.

In this report, Mesmin Destin conducts a careful review of the literature and finds that approaches that incorporate psychological factors--such as encouraging growth mindsets, linking classroom work to real-world aspirations, and using online modules that help activate students' motivation and sense of belonging--can improve student success in higher education. Of course, results from individual experimental studies do not mean policymakers should jump to implement a specific interactive module at all schools, but they should recognize that college administrators' policy choices matter for the success of their students.

The research does not suggest implementing one-size-fits-all programs or activities, since there is still much we do not know about the corollaries between psychological factors and student success. For policymakers, this means they should avoid high-stakes measurements of psychological factors and resist the urge to tie public subsidies to the results of those psychological measurements. At the same time, the research offers promising opportunities for improving completion if policymakers can gently encourage university administrators to focus on student experience and align psychological factors in their favor to improve completion rates.

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Author:Hess, Frederick M.; Hatalsky, Lanae Erickso
Publication:AEI Paper & Studies
Date:May 1, 2018
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