Educating our nation's youth requires ongoing involvement and support from education leaders. Although earning a high school diploma and enrolling in college are triumphant milestones for a student to reach, more of these students are failing to matriculate, faltering in the transitional period after graduation and before the first day of college classes. These college-enrolled students who never show up to campus comprise a phenomenon knownas "summer melt." During the summer months leading up to college, several factors can derail a student from actually stepping foot on campus in the fall, despite their academic ambition and college eligibility.
Plagued by Summer Melt
About 10 to 20 percent of college-qualified students "melt away," reports Home Room, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education. 1 Dr. Lindsey Page, a researcher at Harvard University, told NPR that about 20 percent of college-enrolled high school graduates don't attend in the fall. And for community colleges specifically, the summer melt rate increases to about 40 percent. Minorities and first-generation college students from low-income homes are typically the most vulnerable to summer melt, Page added, emphasizing the influential effects of ethnicity and socioeconomic stature. NPR host David Green even went as far as to assert that "higher education is predominantly serving upper and middle-class kids," 2 despite higher ed’s seeming dedication to creating academic solutions for students of disadvantaged backgrounds.
What perpetuates summer melt? Some students face a multitude of barriers, and they may lack adequate resources and guidance to navigate these challenges. For one, overwhelming financial responsibilities complicate the process, deterring these potential college students. Submitting deposits, negotiating financial aid agreements, verifying FAFSA and securing loans can be too complicated for these students to confront. First-generation college students may become burdened with social anxiety and informational barriers, as well as a lack of mentorship and college-bound peers. These burdens become too difficult for students and families to digest, preventing matriculation.
Page joined Benjamin Castleman, an assistant professor of education and public policy at the University of Virginia, in conducting a study on summer melt. The two found that during the summer months, students live in limbo; neither high schools or colleges adopt these young people as their responsibility, which leaves students to exist in academic uncertainty. Students are left to overcome hurdles (such as course enrollment deadlines, orientation registration and placement test signups) on their own and ultimately, become defeated by the complexity of the process.
Melt Prevention & Student Engagement
Anthony Capetillo, a high school graduate and soon-to-be freshman at Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University this fall, was already participating in campus life this summer. Along with more than 40 other students, Capetillo enrolled in a five-week summer residential program called the Advanced Preparation Program to learn skills such as time management and leadership. The university designed the program to prevent summer melt and keep vulnerable students actively engaged, reports SCTimes.com. 3
The youth-serving network St. Louis Graduates is also committed to helping low-income students earn a postsecondary degree. Their High School to College Center combats student melt by offering free counseling services and financial aid advice throughout the summer. The center bridges the aforementioned gap between high school and college for students without guidance. STLToday.com shares the story of student intern Derion, who received clarity and reassurance from the center that UMSL is without question where he should attend college. The center also helped interns Daisha and Jazmin with the enrollment process and manage tasks like housing confirmation. 4, 5
Tracking Students With Texting
Along with drop-in counseling centers and university-launched summer programs, texting being used as a cost-effective tool for solving the summer melt epidemic. Texting students with personalized reminders of tasks to complete can have a sizable impact, especially since 63 percent of teens text daily, according to the New England Board of Higher Education. 6 Page and Castleton who found texting initiatives can increase matriculation by up to 11 percent and can only cost about $7 per student.
Texting improves a student's access to academic information and connects them to available professional support. It serves as a prompt for students to complete required tasks, such as registering for orientation, filling out housing forms, signing up for health insurance and filling out financial aid applications.
EdWeek.org highlights how the West Virginia Higher Education Commission launched a texting initiative and pilot program that sends text alerts and reminders about deadlines. Students can also contact a high school or campus professional for more personal face-to-face assistance. The goal is to advise students from low-income families who may not have academic guidance and adequate support systems at home.
Darrell T. Taylor, dean of student services and enrollment at Southern community college, told Education Week that texting is a good way to move students who wait until the last minute to register. Rebecca Schmitz, a counselor at Washington Technology Magnet School, added that she thinks some students would have given up without summer text messaging. 7
Along with texting initiatives, schools can foster a summer melt intervention with social media communities, school apps, more intimate one-on-one communication with families and a high school completion partnership program. For example, colleges that adopt a high school diploma program provide students with a step-by-step alternative for graduating high school and then can easily help graduates transition into the next step—college. 8
Fighting Summer Melt
Research from the Council of Presidents found that between 1973 and 2008, U.S. jobs requiring postsecondary education grew from 28 to 59 percent. Postsecondary jobs are also projected to increase from 59 to 63 percent between 2008 and 2018. Strong job-specific skills training and rigorous curriculum provided by higher education is essential to meet the needs of the 21st century's growing in-demand job market. 9 Educating our nation's young people prepares them for this workforce and creates opportunities, but only if students make it to the first day of class. Mitigate summer melt by implementing a counseling program or texting campaign—these not only increase college enrollment rates, but they help improve student access into continuing education, thus propelling young people toward a long-term career path.
Let us know how you work to combat "summer melt" with your students in the comments below.
Resources:1 http://www.ed.gov/blog/2013/07/summer-melt/ 2 http://www.npr.org/2013/07/16/202566709/why-poor-students-college-plans-are-hijacked-over-the-summer 3 http://www.sctimes.com/story/news/local/2014/07/18/scsu-fights-summer-melt-keeping-students-engaged/12868477/ 4 http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/stopping-summer-melt-among-high-school-graduates/article_59b3db20-6578-5356-ae40-c1f971f2883e.html 5 http://www.stlouisgraduates.org/blog/stopping-summer-melt-among-high-school-graduates#.U-kcGaJX-uZ 6 http://www.nebhe.org/thejournal/can-text-messages-mitigate-summer-melt 7 http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/05/14/31texting_ep.h33.html 8 http://www.uversity.com/blog/top-3-reasons-your-students-may-melt-this-summer-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/ 9 http://www.councilofpresidents.org/docs/PB/COP_PolicyBrief_IndividualBenefit_10_2013.pdf