Graduation with a skyline view
What was the challenge?
Part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) strategic plan is to raise awareness about higher education and financial aid opportunities to HUD-assisted residents. Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step to accessing Federal and other forms of aid for post-secondary education. HUD partnered with the Office of Evaluation Sciences (OES) in 2017 to design and evaluate a pair of mail-based communications which encouraged youth residing in public housing in New York City to complete the FAFSA.
What was the program change?
HUD and OES designed a bundle of communications to address the basic informational gaps that may exist. The bundle of communications included a series of four mailings, a robocall, and a series of three emails (for households with an email address on file). Each message was behaviorally informed to address a specific barrier: individual communications targeted misconceptions about out of pocket costs, combated other common myths with statements of fact, provided social comparisons, and described the process for completing the FAFSA in two simple steps.
How did the evaluation work?
Randomization was conducted at the household level and blocked by housing development, whether or not the household had an email address on file, and whether or not the household was in the top five percent of household income. Half of the approximately 40,000 households — which included a total of 50,980 youth — were assigned to treatment and the rest were assigned to control. All 17-24 year old residents in treated households were sent the full bundle of communications in early 2017. Residents in households selected for the control group were not sent any materials from NYCHA related to post-secondary education.
What was the impact?
The communications did not change FAFSA completion or post-secondary enrollment rates for the 2017 academic year. The treatment group completed the FAFSA for the 2017 academic year at 35.3 percent, which was 0.8 percentage points higher than the control group. The post-secondary enrollment rate among the treatment group in the 2017 academic year was 26.8 percent, an increase of 0.8 percentage points over the control group. Neither difference is statistically different from zero.
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