CU Boulder Students Learn the Power of Engagement Through PIPs
Through individual action, students save almost 500,000 pounds of carbon and unlock $100,000 in scholarships and gift cards
The University of Colorado Boulder (CU) was the first university to deploy the PIPs Rewards™ App. The university introduced the app to students in August 2017. By June 2021, 5,689 students were engaged in the tech-enabled PIPs for School program, not counting the 1,000 or so that had graduated in the intervening years.
CU chose the PIPs program to “support students’ interest in sustainability,” because as Dave Newport, Director of the CU Environmental Center, explained in the Daily Camera, “An engaged freshman is a retained sophomore.”
Engagement has many benefits for both institutions and students. It correlates with increased productivity and persistence on the part of students, which for the institution means increased retention and graduation rates.
What we also found is that engagement correlates with an increased sense of personal agency, a conscious appreciation that each of us matters, as do our actions.
In October 2021, the PIPs Team surveyed 550 CU student-users of the PIPs App. Those invited to fill out the survey were carefully selected based on their rates of activity: 1/3 had high rates of activity, 1/3 were average, and 1/3 had low activity rates.
A healthy 40% responded, and over 60% of them said they’d been steadily engaging with PIPs for three or more semesters, a very strong level of engagement. Other responses related to engagement are summarized here (all responses are presented as a percentage of respondents):
Students earn Positive Impact Points (PIPs) each time they complete an action, including carbon-saving actions such as commuting by bus, recycling, composting, biking, walking, dining in, and refilling water bottles, as well as actions like volunteering, participating in a social-emotional wellness class, or attending a campus learning session.
As the currency builds up, it can be exchanged for highly valued rewards, which, starting in Spring 2019, includes grants for school. When asked how they used their PIPs, CU’s survey respondents said the following:
It was particularly affirming to learn that the PIPs for School program not only motivated and offered a framework for behavior change but fostered a greater appreciation for the power of individual action.
Fundamentally an action verification platform, the app uses a mix of action-tracking tools, including integration with APIs, QR Codes, and even Artificial Intelligence (AI), to capture and reward users every time an action is completed. For those actions with a carbon-footprint (see above), it also keeps track of your personal and your community’s carbon savings. Over the course of the program, CU PIPs users took enough carbon-saving actions to keep over a half million pounds of carbon from being emitted. They also earned enough PIPs to unlock approximately $100,000 in grants and gift cards.
Additionally, the PIPs Team analyzed re-enrollment or retention rates of two classes of PIPs users, those who were freshmen in Fall 2018 and those who were freshmen in Fall 2019, and compared them to the rates of their respective classes. In both cases, PIPs users had retention rates that were about 5% higher than their class as a whole. Though impressive, in order to turn correlation into causation between engagement with the PIPs program and improved retention rates, it would be necessary to limit participation to, or at least be able to identify, those students who were most at risk of dropping out.
That said, all other indicators suggest the program accomplished what it set out to do — increase engagement, drive behavior change, and empower students. Our mission is to instill in students a greater sense of personal responsibility that eventually becomes central to who they are. That is how everyday engagement becomes meaningful, sustainable, and impactful.
President, PIPs Education Fund