What is it? Information, advice and guidance (IAG) is an umbrella term for support that helps students make informed choices about education options. IAG is primarily factual in nature, as opposed to approaches that aim to influence aspirations or foster a sense of belonging in higher education (HE).
Evidence? There are a handful of robust research studies on the impact of light-touch forms of IAG (for example, text messages, in-school presentations). These studies show that IAG can have a small positive effect on attitudes/aspirations and on HE participation. However, the provision of financial information leads to more mixed results.
Should HE providers use IAG to widen participation? IAG is generally a low-cost intervention which has a positive but small impact on attitudes/aspirations and HE participation. It is likely that this kind of approach only impacts participation for students who were already at the margin of applying to HE. There is evidence that IAG should be accompanied by personalised support to be truly effective, and that financial information alone may be ineffective. Therefore, IAG is a low-cost approach that should be used to supplement other more intensive activity.
What is this intervention?
In the context of widening participation, IAG refers to a wide range of activities and interventions that help students to make informed decisions about their future.
Providing information and advice may also be part of mentoring, counselling, coaching and role model interventions, summer schools and multi-intervention outreach. However, while these interventions are intended to influence aspirations/attitudes and are often provided on a one-on-one basis, IAG interventions usually aim at filling a specific information gap and often sit within the wider context of careers guidance.
What is the target group?
IAG is generally designed to address issues faced by students from disadvantaged and under-represented groups. However, the advice on this page is drawn from studies which also examine the impact of IAG on the broader population of students because IAG is often delivered at the level of whole classes or schools.
How effective is it?
The existing evidence suggests that light-touch IAG can have a small positive impact on students’ aspirations/attitudes, and sometimes on HE participation (see the list of causal studies given below).
However, some UK-based studies on the provision of financial information show a negative or no effect on aspirations/attitudes relating to higher education suggesting that this kind of information may need to be combined with other forms of support to be effective (McGuigan et al., 2016; Silva et al., 2016).
The costs involved are small compared to other activities so well-designed interventions can be a cost-effective approach; however, only certain forms of IAG are likely to have an impact (McNally, 2016).
What features seem to be important?
The most successful IAG interventions for students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups appear to be those that are tailored to individual students, start early, and are integrated into other forms of support such as career advice and guidance.
However, as IAG is a low-cost approach, there is a trade-off between the cost and benefit of integrating it into more intensive outreach. Well-designed light-touch IAG interventions could be a cost-effective supplement to more intensive programmes of activity.
What don’t we know
As there are only a small number of studies to inform this advice, and an even smaller number which take place in a UK context, it is difficult to make strong claims about the most effective forms of IAG. Similarly, it is not possible to make claims about the efficacy of different approaches for students from specific disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.
Where does the evidence come from?
TASO’s advice on the efficacy of IAG in widening participation is based on evidence from eight causal research studies (all randomised controlled trials) and one other empirical study, shared confidentially with TASO, which suggests a positive association between IAG and student outcomes.
We have focused on evidence produced in the last 10 years and, in the case of UK-based evidence, since the student finance reforms were introduced in 2012.
The key references are given below.
Causal studies on the impact of IAG
Carrell, S., & Sacerdote, B. (2017). Why Do College-Going Interventions Work?. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 9(3), 124-151. https://doi.org/10.1257/app.20150530
Castleman, B., & Page, L. (2015). Summer nudging: Can personalized text messages and peer mentor outreach increase college going among low-income high school graduates?. Journal Of Economic Behavior & Organization, 115, 144-160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2014.12.008
Hoxby, C. & Turner, S. (2013). Expanding college opportunity for high-achieving, low-income students.
McGuigan, M., McNally, S., & Wyness, G. (2016). Student Awareness of Costs and Benefits of Educational Decisions: Effects of an Information Campaign. Journal Of Human Capital, 10(4), 482-519. https://doi.org/10.1086/689551
Peter, F., Spiess, C., & Zambre, V. (2018). Informing Students about College: An Efficient Way to Decrease the Socio-Economic Gap in Enrollment: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3287800
Phillips, M.B., & Reber, S.J. (2018). When “Low Touch” is Not Enough: Evidence from a Random Assignment College Access Field Experiment.
Sanders, M., Burgess, S., Chande, R., Dilnot, C., Kozman, E., & Macmillan, L. (2018). Role models, mentoring and university applications – evidence from a crossover randomised controlled trial in the United Kingdom. Widening Participation And Lifelong Learning, 20(4), 57-80. https://doi.org/10.5456/nvpll.20a.57
Silva, A. S., Sanders, M., & Chonaire, A. N. (2016). Does the heart rule the head? Economic and emotional incentives for university attendance. London: Behavioural Insight Team.
Other selected references
McNally, S. (2016). How important is career information and advice?. IZA World Of Labor. https://doi.org/10.15185/izawol.317