One day in February, a Los Angeles high school student texted a hotline number, worried about paying for college.
"Those two things were sticking in my mind alongside each other," she said. "I thought, wait a minute, if we can put experts next to kids for deep emotional issues, and we're having a problem connecting kids to experts at workshops, we can use text messaging to help solve the problem."
This month, the White House’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team’s annual report tried something similar: The group targeted high school graduates who had been accepted to college, and sent each one of them eight personalized messages reminding them to complete pre-matriculation tasks such as taking placement tests.
As a result, the report found, enrollment increased by 5.7 percentage points, from 66.4% to 72.1%.
So during the last FAFSA season, Groark partnered with Univision to start a college text hotline: Students could text "FAFSA" to 335577 to ask questions in English, or "Dinero" to 335566 to get help in Spanish. About 30 volunteers with backgrounds in financial aid helped take the questions, most of which were answered within an hour. In a two-month period, Californian students and experts exchanged about 7,000 texts; two-thirds were in Spanish. Questions included "where do I get the form?" and "what if my parents live in Mexico?"
What if experts text students the wrong information?
"It's definitely a big concern of ours," Groark said. Get Schooled tries to prevent that by partnering with organizations that have comprehensive training and auditing text messages to test for accuracy — something that she wouldn't be able to do for the traditional in-person workshops.