I mentioned a while ago some J-PAL research on the impact of providing information on the returns to education on school enrolment rates in Madagscar. It turns out the same thing works in the US.
How do we motivate kids — especially kids in rough situations — to want education? Researchers at the University of Michigan studied middle school students in Detroit and found that, while almost 90 percent expected to go to college, only half wanted a career that actually required education. And this difference was critical. Students whose career goals did not require education (e.g., sports star, movie star) spent less time on homework and got lower grades. The good news is that the researchers found it was easy to make education more salient, and thereby motivate kids. When students were shown a graph depicting the link between education and earnings, they were much more likely to hand in an extra-credit homework assignment the next day than if they were shown a graph depicting the earnings of superstars.
Destin, M. & Oyserman, D., “Incentivizing Education: Seeing Schoolwork as an Investment, Not a Chore,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming)