College is often touted as a gateway to a better life, but if incoming students aren’t able to persist through college, they can be saddled with debt and no meaningful improvement in their career prospects. Many students from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups are less likely to continue beyond their first year of college, making this an important equity issue. A recent article published in Science investigated how an early-stage social-belonging intervention with first-year students affected their degree completion rates. The study was a large experiment involving nearly 27,000 college students from 22 institutions, where a subset of students were exposed to a brief 30-min online intervention emphasizing their social belonging on campus: “Do people like me belong here? YES”. The authors theorized that the students exposed to the intervention would be more likely to respond to hardships and setbacks with a growth mindset (“It’s common to go through challenges like this and overcome them”), as opposed to a fixed mindset (“I/people like me don’t belong/can’t fit/can’t succeed at my college”), which would improve their academic outcomes. The study showed a positive effect of the intervention on retention of all identity groups, however identity groups with lower historic achievement levels experienced a greater positive effect from the intervention on completion rates compared to historically higher achieving groups. These results demonstrate that simple, targeted messaging at the beginning of a student’s college career, can establish a sense of belonging, and promote a growth mindset, increasing the likelihood of persistence through college, particularly for identity groups with historically low retention rates
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