Monday, May 22, 2017
301 Lindquist Center (South)


The Center for Research on Undergraduate Education is hosting a Symposium on Experimental Research in Higher Education.

The CRUE Symposium will consist of presenters from across the nation sharing their innovative experimental studies and interventions; topics will include college access, admissions, introductory coursework, STEM, and student success initiatives.

The Symposium is free and open to the public. All are welcome to attend for any portion of the day.

Support and Contact

The University of Iowa Office of the President has provided generous support for this event.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Patrick Rossmann in advance at


8:45 a.m. Welcome and introduction
9:00 a.m. Benjamin Castleman (University of Virginia)
Nudging at a National Scale: Experimental Evidence from a FAFSA Completion Campaign
10:00 a.m.

Nicholas Bowman (University of Iowa)
Improving Admission of Low-SES Students at Selective Colleges and Universities: Results from an Experimental Intervention

11:00 a.m.

Mary Murphy (Indiana University)
Caught Up in Red Tape: Bureaucratic Hassles Undermine First-Generation Students’ Sense of Belonging and Persistence in College

12:00 p.m. Free lunch for all attendees in 204 Lindquist Center (South)
1:00 p.m.

Jennifer Cromley (University of Illinois)
A Combined Cognitive-Motivational Intervention for Undergraduate Biology Students

2:00 p.m.

Michael Weiss (MDRC)
The Platinum Bullet: Evidence from RCTs of CUNY’s ASAP

3:00 p.m. Closing remarks by Ernest Pascarella (University of Iowa)
4:30 - 6:00 p.m. Social hour at Iowa Chop House (223 E Washington St, Iowa City)



Benjamin Castleman

Nudging at a National Scale: Experimental Evidence from a FAFSA Completion Campaign

Abstract: Despite substantial and growing interest in behavioral science interventions in education, we currently lack evidence about whether nudge interventions that have generated positivePr impacts on postsecondary outcomes at a local level can be scaled—and can maintain efficacy—nationally. We also have little evidence about the specific mechanisms underlying the positive impacts of promising smaller-scale nudges. We investigate, through a randomized controlled trial, the impact of a national information-only financial aid nudge campaign that reached over 450,000 high school seniors who had registered with the Common Application, a national non-profit organization through which students can apply to multiple colleges and universities in one application. In this version of the paper we report on the impact of three different variations in nudge content—concretizing the financial benefits of FAFSA completion, positive trait activation, or providing concrete planning prompts—on students’ initial college enrollment outcomes. We find that providing students with concrete planning prompts about when and how to complete the FAFSA increased college enrollment by 1.1 percentage points overall, and by 1.7 percentage points for first-generation college students. Messages that take a traditional human capital investments approach of emphasizing the financial benefits associated with FAFSA completion do not appear to increase college enrollment. At a per-student cost of $0.50, the impact to cost ratio of this national nudge campaign exceeds that of other interventions to improve college enrollment among low-income and first-generation students.

Benjamin Castleman is an Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, and the Founder and Director of the Nudge4 Solutions Lab at UVA. He is a senior advisor to Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative and is the Faculty Director of the University of Virginia-US Army Partnership on Veterans’ Education. Ben’s research develops scalable solutions in education and public policy by leveraging behavioral insights, data science, interactive technologies, and deep partnerships with public and private agencies and organizations. Ben leads Mrs. Obama’s Up Next campaign, a national text messaging campaign to improve college, financial aid, and loan repayment outcomes for young Americans. Ben has presented about his research at several White House convenings and in testimony before Congress. Ben’s research has appeared in top public policy and economics journals, including The Journal of Labor Economics, The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, and The Journal of Human Resources. Ben’s research has been generously supported by numerous philanthropic foundations and has received extensive media coverage, including The New York Times, National Public Radio, Time Magazine, and the Washington Post. Ben is a graduate of Brown University, and completed his doctoral work at Harvard University. Before returning to graduate school, he was a public school teacher and administrator in Providence, RI.

Nicholas A. Bowman

Improving Admission of Low-SES Students at Selective Colleges and Universities: Results from an Experimental Intervention

Abstract: Students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) are highly underrepresented at selective colleges and universities. Various efforts seek to remedy this problem, but these have often overlooked one area over which institutions exert considerable control: their own admissions processes. This study conducted a randomized controlled trial to test whether providing detailed information about high school contexts increases the likelihood that admissions officers would recommend accepting low-SES applicants. As expected, admissions officers with detailed high school information were considerably more likely to recommend admitting the low-SES applicant, presumably because these raters appropriately viewed students’ qualifications in the context of their precollege environments. In contrast, providing additional information had no effect on the recommendations of higher-SES applicants.

Nicholas A. Bowman is a professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies as well as the director of the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa. His research uses a social psychological lens to explore several topics in higher education, including diversity, student success, perceptions of prestige, and quantitative methodology. He is a co-author of the third volume of How College Affects Students, which synthesized over 1,800 studies on factors that promote short-term and long-term outcomes. His work has appeared or is currently in press at more than 60 journal articles since 2009; these outlets include Review of Educational Research, Educational Researcher, American Educational Research Journal, Sociology of Education, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Social Psychological and Personality Science. Dr. Bowman’s research has been cited over 2,700 times and has been covered in various media outlets, such as New York Times, The New Yorker, Washington Monthly, The Atlantic, The Economist, and National Public Radio.

Mary Murphy

Caught Up in Red Tape: Bureaucratic Hassles Undermine First-Generation Students’ Sense of Belonging and Persistence in College

Abstract: Students who are the first in their families to attend college—first-generation college students—experience lower academic performance and persistence in college. The present research examines how subtle institutional cues might unintentionally contribute to these social class achievement and persistence gaps. Specifically, we hypothesized that, among first-generation students, bureaucratic hassles serve as a cue that triggers identity threat by undermining students’ sense of belonging in college. Study 1 manipulated bureaucratic hassles via a frustrating university web form. Among first-generation students attending four-year colleges (but not among their continuing-generation peers), the frustrating form reduced students’ sense of belonging and their level of confidence in their ability to succeed in college. Study 2 conceptually replicated this finding among first-generation community college students with a different type of bureaucratic hassle: a complicated course selection task. First generation students experienced less belonging and lower confidence after completing the complicated (vs. uncomplicated) course selection task. Study 3—a longitudinal field study—examined actual college persistence. Results revealed that first-generation students who contended with more bureaucratic hassles reported lower feelings of belonging in college. Among students who were more uncertain about their belonging in college, those who contended with more hassles were more likely to be enrolled in fewer college classes the following semester. We discuss how frustrating and complicated interactions with institutions may take on an identity-threatening meaning for stigmatized and underrepresented students, and how institutions of higher education might address such unintended cues that signal to some students that they may not belong in college.

Mary C. Murphy is an Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University. Her research focuses on understanding how people’s social identities and group memberships, such as their gender, race, and socio-economic status, interact with the contexts they encounter to affect people’s thoughts, feelings, motivation, and performance. In the realm of education, her research illuminates the situational cues that influence students’ academic motivation and achievement with an emphasis on understanding when those processes are similar and different for majority and minority students. She develops, implements, and evaluates social psychological interventions that reduce identity threat for students and examines their effects on students’ motivation, persistence, and performance. In the realm of organizations and tech, her research examines barriers and solutions for increasing gender and racial diversity in STEM fields.  Mary earned a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and a PhD from Stanford University. She completed a NSF postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University. In 2012, she joined the faculty of Indiana University and, in 2013, was named a Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science (APS). She is the recipient of over $8 million in federal and foundation grants including a recent $2.2 million NSF CAREER award for her research on strategies to improve diversity in STEM. Her research has been profiled in The New York Times, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Scientific American, and NPR, among other outlets.

Jennifer Cromley

A Combined Cognitive-Motivational Intervention for Undergraduate Biology Students

Abstract: My team and I have been conducting experiments trying to increase the course grades and STEM retention of introductory undergraduate biology students. Our interventions combine support for student studying/reasoning skills combined with support for specific aspects of student motivation. The study supports are combined with one of three motivational supports: videos of course alumni talking about dealing with time and effort costs of being a science major, targeted messages that accompany information about relative standing after exams, or brief writing assignments about the relevance of course content to student lives. In my presentation, I will focus on steps we take to ensure as much as possible that students assigned to a condition cannot access materials from another condition in these Web-based intervention studies.

Jennifer Cromley is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology in the College of Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She holds a 2005 Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of Maryland College Park as well a Certificate in Educational Measurement and Statistics. She was a recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2010. Her current IES-funded intervention project is entitled “Bootstrapping Achievement and Motivation in STEM: An Integrated Cognitive-Motivational Intervention to Improve Biology Grades”. A second line of her research concerns comprehension of text and diagrams and other visual representations, their relation to individual differences such as knowledge and spatial skills, and developing methods for teaching students to better comprehend illustrated texts. Cromley is an associate editor of Cognition & Instruction and sits on 6 editorial boards including the Journal of Educational Psychology, Contemporary Educational Psychology, and Learning and Instruction.

Michael Weiss

The Platinum Bullet: Evidence from RCTs of CUNY’s ASAP

Abstract: Community colleges provide access and opportunity to millions of low-income students throughout the United States. However, graduation rates from these institutions are discouragingly low. This presentation will focus on evaluations of ASAP, a program created and implemented by the City University of New York (CUNY), and independently evaluated through a randomized control trial by MDRC. ASAP is the most promising program to be rigorously evaluated in higher education, to date, and it is currently being replicated (and evaluated) in three colleges in Ohio. Results from the original RCT in New York and early findings from Ohio will be discussed.

Michael Weiss is a Senior Research Associate at MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization. His work focuses on evaluating programs designed to improve community college students’ chances of achieving academic success. He is also deeply involved in methodological projects intended to improve the quality of randomized controlled trial (RCT) evaluations. Weiss has led multiple RCTs in postsecondary education, serving as principal investigator or co-principal investigator on four Institute of Education Sciences (IES)-funded RCTs of five postsecondary programs. Weiss has authored multiple reports and peer-reviewed articles on the effectiveness of higher education programs. In his methodological work, Weiss is the principal investigator on an IES methods grant on issues of program effect variation. His work includes peer-reviewed articles on teacher effects in RCTs, measuring school performance, and multiple papers on variation in program effects. Weiss holds a BS and a master’s degree in applied statistics from Cornell University and a doctorate in education policy from the University of Pennsylvania.