NORWALK, Conn. – Every summer, tens of thousands of college-bound students around the country fail to enroll for their upcoming first semester of college because of a common phenomenon known as “summer melt,” says the experts at Norwalk Community College.
Many have completed key steps to reach this point -- getting good grades, gaining acceptance to schools and applying for financial aid. During the summer, however, they change course and their intentions to attend college simply “melt away.”
Researchers at Harvard University found that summer melt could affect up to 40 percent of college-bound students. Education researchers point to several factors for summer melt, including the complexity of the college enrollment process; concern about taking on debt to pay for school; the intricacies of the financial aid process; and the summer absence of teachers and guidance counselors to answer questions and help them out.
Unfortunately, summer melt disproportionately affects first-generation, lower-income and community college students.
But there are manageable steps that students, parents, school officials and community-based organizations can take to help curb summer melt, all built around establishing ongoing communications and support networks.
- Create support teams – Some charter high schools have developed alumni teams to assist recent graduates with any questions, needs and status help on the various forms students need to submit for their intended college or university. The teams hold summer bridge activities to get advisers and students together to navigate the necessary health forms, financial aid awards and other paperwork.
- Encourage students to self-advocate – Create opportunities for students to be their own best advocate by encouraging them to tap community resources, do research on scholarships and reach out to staff members at their intended colleges for assistance and answers to their questions. This helps students take ownership of the process and establish early connections to campus resources.
- Orchestrate a text campaign – Recent articles have highlighted the success of ongoing text messaging campaigns with students over the summer to stay in touch and remind them of key dates. A Southern California high school district is teaming up with a local non-profit organization to research deadlines for the necessary forms and payments at numerous colleges, and then send a series of text reminders and offers for counseling/advising over the summer to students intending to attend those colleges. A similar program in Dallas reported that among high school students who opted in to participate in a summer texting program, 13 percent were more likely to enroll in a postsecondary institution.
- Don’t forget year two – Just because a student has completed her/his freshman year at college doesn’t mean summer melt can’t seep in before they start sophomore year. It is important to maintain ongoing contact with students and extend assistance, as described earlier. One study showed that freshmen who received text reminders to submit financial aid forms and keep up their grades to qualify for aid were 20 percent more likely to stay in college than those who did not receive these communications.
- Tap available resources – The summer months are a critical time to help students get the information they need, process the required paperwork and answer their questions.
As these recommendations indicate, a series of well-planned and considerate interventions can have a favorable impact on alleviating summer melt and boosting overall college enrollment.
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