Here’s a great practical persuasion intervention that’s based on well established theory and even provides some counting. Evaluate it.
The next year Bial started the Posse Foundation. From her work with students around the city, she chose five New York City high school students who were clearly leaders — dynamic, intelligent, creative, resilient — but who might not have had the SAT scores to get into good schools. Vanderbilt University was willing to admit them all, tuition-free. The students met regularly in their senior year of high school, through the summer, and at college. Surrounded by their posse, they all thrived. Today the Posse Foundation selects about 600 students a year, from eight different cities. They are grouped into posses of 10 students from the same city and go together to an elite college; about 40 colleges now participate in the program.
You see Norms and Modeling, Comparison and Reciprocity at the core of the Posse program. Participants are placed into small cohesive social groups then enrolled together in the same college. The group is constructed around shared Norms (aspiration to college as a key element). Participants see at least 4 other people behave which provides 4 different models to copy. They Compare themselves to each other and since the group was designed around that common Norm of college aspiration the Comparison drives them. And I’d argue there follows a ton of Reciprocal exchanges all aimed at college success that again motivates and reinforces each other.
While the Posse program started with risky inner city kids, other colleges are modeling it. Consider, DePauw University.
At DePauw, Babington said that the success of the Posse model inspired the school to put all first-year students — not just those from Posse — into small groups with an upper-class student as a mentor. They meet regularly to talk about topics like time management, high-risk drinking and preparing for midterms. Babington said that at the same time it instituted this program, called First Year Experience, the school also moved its fraternity and sorority recruiting to later in the year and built more student housing. The changes “dramatically improved the retention rate,” said Babington, from 86 or 87 percent of freshmen returning the next year to 91 or 92 percent. “I do attribute a lot of it to First Year Experience.”
Now we finally get some counting on the Posse program. I’m reluctant to a 4-6 point increase “dramatic” and it may not even be statistically reliable. And, just to pile on, we’ve only got results from one location over one year. Finally, if you read the article you find a handful of success descriptors about one Posse group that graduated 11 of 12 (91%) or heart warming individual cases of achievement, but no large program evaluation. A visit to the Posse website reveals a claim of a 90% graduation rate which is dead-on with the expected value for a competitive college.
The program also apparently requires a fair amount of dedicated resource to run. Selecting these kids takes personnel, then there is a significant interviewing and training element. Here’s an example.
Starting in January, Brown and the 10 others in her posse began to meet weekly with a Posse staff member. The purpose of the sessions was to solidify the group and teach them what they needed to succeed at Middlebury: how to write at a college level, but just as important, how to negotiate the social world: how to deal with a diversity of race and socioeconomic status, how to communicate with people who were very different — “finding ways to express what you want to say so that people get your point and don’t feel disrespected,” she said. She was living in the shelter at the time.
Early in my academic career I spent several years as a counselor in an Educational Development Center doing exactly this kind of work with at-risk students at a regional state university. While we focused on kids with minimal preparation rather than the higher talent kids in the Posse program, we had the same goal: Retain to graduation. The program had over a dozen fulltime positions and ran more on a business schedule (8am to 5pm) than the typical professor schedule. It wasn’t cheap.
Melanie is currently participating in a similar program at WVU but aimed at talented undergrads who don’t realize they are grad school types. The McNair program targets these hidden talents who would thrive in a professional degree program, but simply have no idea they exist. McNair finds these kids, trains them, and aims them at grad school. But, again, it takes resources.
Of course there are social, political, and legal implications in these programs and while that’s important, please focus on my smaller point: Evaluate the persuasion program. Does it work? How well? Why does it work? What does it cost?
Past the feel good elements here – which always tend to dominate the Counting Report – it appears that the original Posse program does a good job at picking unlikely kids who can succeed at tougher universities at pretty much the same rate the existing recruitment program delivers. The Posse program produces a real effect with those hidden gems.
The Norm element compels me as a persuasion guy. That’s a great persuasion tactic that harnesses each member of the posse to that central goal of graduation in a small group setting. Of course most universities, especially the more selective ones, are aiming at the Posse idea, but at the University level and not the small group level. You see the persuasion advantage you get with the Posse approach to Norms compared to the University approach. You can’t build the same kind of cohesion and loyalty in a group of 2,000 as you can in a group of 10. You could try to create 200 Posses, but that might create a new set of problems – gangs.
So, what do you see? How could you apply this in your setting? Most importantly, how would you count it?