Freeze the Summer Melt
After all of the high school seniors are enrolled at your college, the admission counselors can kick their feet up and ride out the next few months in a relaxing haze, right? What was that noise? Oh, it’s the laughter of college admission counselors worldwide.
What’s the Problem?
From May 1st until freshman orientation, the disparity between students who commit and the ones who actually show up for that fall semester consume your thoughts. It’s the longest three months of the year. In fact, those 90 days sure feel like an entire year all on their own.
If you haven’t had a name for this phenomenon before, you have one now: Summer Melt. For grade schools, this term often refers to the knowledge lost during those three months of freedom, but it has a different meaning for postsecondary schools. “Summer Melt” is the gap between enrollment numbers in May and the students who actually show up come fall.
You’ve spent all of this time working with students, day-in and day-out, finally received the verdict that they’ll be attending [insert your college here], only for some of their names to disappear from final enrollment lists. Why?
There’s a significant gap between low- and high-income students when it comes to melt, and it has everything to do with encouragement and engagement. Higher income students are likely to have more support, both at home and from their high schools, and this support keeps them engaged with—and committed to—their colleges.
Benjamin L. Castleman and Lindsay C. Page’s book, “Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College.” explains the complex causes of Summer Melt, and also offer solutions to beat the heat in ways that are “effective, low-cost, [and] scalable.” Just food for thought.
What’s the Cause?
To surmount this challenge, we have to see the problem from the point of view of the seniors most in need.
Unsurprisingly, the most at-risk students to ‘melt’ in the transition from high school to college are low-income and first-generation students, as well as students of color. They’re the least likely to utilize their high school counselors and just as unlikely to have an outside source for assistance.
They’re 17, 18 years old, with the same level of procrastination as any other teen. Also, they’ve just spent months so focused on just getting accepted that thinking beyond that point likely hasn’t crossed their minds.
Suddenly they’re confronted with deciphering their financial aid award letter, the tuition, how to bridge the cost gap, taking placement tests, registering for class, immunizations, outside expenses beyond the cost of school, housing, transportation, and all of the online portals involved in the process. And that’s all before the pressure of saying goodbye to friends and getting ready to move away from home.
It sounds just as daunting as the college application process, but with even fewer recognizable words and resources to pull from for information and support. It all results in between 10 to 40 percent (depending upon the area) of students who intended to head to college come fall dropping off the radar entirely.
How Can We Fix the Problem?
Offering support and engagement throughout the summer before freshman year is the ideal solution. It’s hard to offer much individual attention, especially since admissions offices are often delegated administrative work during the summer. But it might be time to reassess that practice and determine whether it’s the best way to allocate your admission professionals’ time.
Combating Summer Melt can be as easy as texting students about their progress, though. Yes, texting. The bane of many teachers’ lives can help get butts in seats at your institution. Georgia State University implemented a program called “Pounce,” named after their mascot, to send out text-reminders for tasks that need to be completed prior to showing up on campus.
From confirming housing, to finishing Financial Aid forms, to registering for orientation, you name it, and Pounce can handle the request. It can even answer simple questions or route requests it can’t handle to a counselor.
Georgia State’s Summer Melt decreased from 18% to 14% thanks to these reminder texts. The GIF of Tina Fey making it rain money probably doesn’t hurt anything either.
If you’re not sold on implementing an automated text message system, other colleges have taken alternate paths to reducing Summer Melt. Some send representatives to their prospective students as "cheerleaders," while others offer more personalized modes of email communication to help students that need a guiding hand in completing all of the necessary steps. You can read more about starting your own Summer Melt Prevention program here.
If doing it in-house isn't feasible in your admissions office, you can choose to promote services that offer the support students’ needs, such as uAspire, a non-profit dedicated to demolishing Summer Melt among low-income minority students by connecting students with mentors who help them navigate the complexities of financial aid, enrollment, and registration. Sometimes just having a mentor can change the entire playing field.
Before anything else, though, you need to assess your level of Summer Melt. How many students put down their deposit and then didn’t show up that following semester? Those results will, undoubtedly, determine the plan of action.
So, enjoy the heat of summer, but ensure that you have methods in place to freeze the oncoming melt.