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Take HEART: Experimental Evidence on Enhanced Advising and Postsecondary Progress

Over 40 percent of students starting at public 4-year institutions do not graduate within six years, and ample numbers of non-completers leave late in college. Barriers that grow in complexity as students move through college, fertilized by meager mid-college support, may contribute to late-college departure. In partnership with a public 4-year university, we experimentally study the effects of an enhanced advising intervention (HEART) that targets students at least halfway through college on progress, performance, and completion. HEART included access to a skilled advisor whose caseload was approximately one-quarter the typical size; up-to-date, easy-to-digest information on remaining financial aid and academic progress; and a modest grant structured as an incentive over two terms. Among male students, access to HEART boosted 4-year completion rates by 13 percentage points, with no statistically significant effect on 5-year completion rates. Hence, the intervention hastened completion among males, roughly halving the female-male disparity in 4-year completion rates. Effects on a range of mechanisms suggest that HEART achieved this effect by helping students more efficiently fulfill remaining graduation requirements. We find little evidence of beneficial effects of the intervention on postsecondary outcomes for other pre-specified subgroups, including female students and students grouped by baseline propensity to complete college in 5 years. These findings highlight the complexity of advising, and the potential promise of medium-touch interventions that center dynamic human-to-human interaction late in college.