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Persistence Plus uses mobile-based nudges to help motivate students to engage in behaviors and make decisions that can lead to success.

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University of Washington-Tacoma logo

University of Washington-Tacoma - Persistence Plus

This case study was created by Persistence Plus. Persistence Plus retains sole editorial control and responsibility for the content in this case study.

University of Washington-Tacoma is helping students stay in college and graduate using an innovative and impactful strategy—behavioral nudging. UWT students get support on their mobile phone through personalized messages that help them develop the academic mindsets and behaviors for college success.

Since 2012, UWT has partnered with Persistence Plus, an organization that applies behavioral science to increase college completion. Persistence Plus’s nudging model brings the concept of the nudge—the idea that the right message at the right time can motivate people to make wiser decisions—to higher education.

The messages are focused on helping students: * Set and work toward academic goals * Complete key actions such as registration and FAFSA renewal in a timely fashion * Take advantage of campus resources * Develop a sense of belonging at UWT * Reframe adversity and cope during stressful times * Overcome stereotype threat

Students receive personalized, interactive messages several times a week throughout the quarter over text message or mobile app. Nudges are personalized to the student’s profile, the UWT campus, and the real-time responses that the student shared about their goals, challenge, and college experience.


UWT began supporting students with nudges as a pilot in 2012 aimed at improving success in introductory math courses. Over eight terms, UWT students who received Persistence Plus support in introductory math courses achieved higher graduates and course completion rates than those who did not. Based on this evidence, UWT expanded nudging support to its entire first-year class. As part of a comprehensive student retention strategy, UWT implemented Persistence Plus nudges with all entering students in 2014, and saw freshman persistence to the following fall increase 6 percentage points.

  • Students were 5x more likely to seek tutoring
  • 14 percentage point higher passing rate in introductory math course
  • 6 percentage point higher year-to-year persistence for first-year students

Nudges have also proven effective at encouraging students to return for their second year. In advance of the fall 2015 term, UWT nudged rising sophomores who had not registered. Days before the term began, this strategy brought 36% of eligible, non- registered students back to campus after 1-4 nudges.

UWT and Persistence Plus are now partners in a five-year Institutes of Education Sciences research project led by the University of Virginia. Beginning in fall 2016, the project targets students who are more than halfway to graduation with nudges to help them reach the finish line. As the first college to adopt Persistence Plus’s nudging model, UWT has been a key partner in the research and development of this student success innovation.


“It’s like you can’t really fail, or if you’re thinking about failing, it helps you to change your thoughts.”

“It’s like a support system and helps you get advice when you feel like you don’t have any necessarily. I reached out to professors probably more so than I would have before. As a freshman it’s really intimidating going from high school teachers to professors. The messages helped me see that that’s normal. I don’t think I ever really want to stop hearing those reminders.”

“I feel like I have someone to help me out who cares, and that the school puts in the effort to get this info to me. It acts like a little counselor to get you through and motivate you.”

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