Cancelled | Boosting Attendance through Goal Setting: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment.

Students on the stairs of Langeveld Building
Emilia Del Bono
Friday 17 May 2024, 15:30 - 16:45
Mandeville Building
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Students on the stairs of Langeveld Building
Eric Fecken

Student effort is a key input in the production function of academic achievement. In tertiary education, this is mainly captured by attendance to lectures and classes, which is however generally low especially in the post-pandemic era and for some groups of students. 

There have been several attempts at increasing attendance among university students, most of them unsuccessful. Here we focus on a goal-setting intervention, implemented via a randomized controlled trial on a population of university students at a UK public university. Treated students set an attendance goal and receive weekly text reminders containing information about their progress towards that goal, they are also given the option to enter a commitment contract which unlocks a financial reward once the goal is achieved. 

We find that the intervention had a positive and statistically significant effect on attendance to lectures. Treated students recorded a 4.2% increase in participation over the remaining 6 weeks of the semester after the experiment was completed. This corresponded roughly to one more lecture attended over the whole term. Students that opted for a commitment contract showed the largest improvement in attendance (10%). 

We find no impact of the treatment on student GPA at the end of the term or on other academic performance indicators. We also investigate the mechanisms through which goal setting might work. Some theoretical models suggest that goals act as an internal commitment device for present biased and loss averse individuals. We use survey and laboratory measures of these individual traits to investigate heterogeneity in treatment effects and find that the impact of the intervention was larger for students with low levels of planning efficacy and who exhibited some degree of loss aversion.

About the speaker

Emilia is a Professor of Economics at ISER, University of Essex. Her research focuses on the nature, causes, and consequences of disparities in children’s human capital that lead to inequalities later on in life. She is also Director of the ESRC-funded Centre for Micro Social Change (MiSoC). 

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