In the education world, summer melt refers to the phenomenon of young adults committing to a college in the spring but failing to show up in the fall. According to researcher Lindsay Page, an average of 20% of students fail to start college courses. This number is higher for students in lower socioeconomic backgrounds — nearing 40%.
What Causes Summer Melt
One of the biggest reasons for the summer melt is finances. After the joy of being accepted to college fades the reality of tuition sets in. Once students realize that financial aid packages fall short or how much it will cost to live on campus, fear sets in. Students may fear the amount of work they will have to do. The prospect and amount of potential loans is also a sense of stress or worry for students.
Long-Term Strategies to Avoid Summer Melt
While it may seem that avoiding this problem should occur largely in summer months, there are steps you can take to help your students avoid the melt long before June comes around.
One thing that you should consider is tracking your students and your school’s melt rate. The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University suggests exit surveys at the beginning of senior year. In these surveys, determine students’ goals for the first year out of high school. Then, follow up with students who express an interest in college in the spring to see who has been accepted to college. Finally, keep in contact with students and determine who actually makes it to college in the Fall. After doing this for a few years, calculate the average percent of your students who fall victim to Summer Melt.
Using this information, begin to form a plan and look for ways to support your students during the summer months.
One strategy to avoid Summer Melt and encourage matriculation is to extend college counseling through the start of Freshman year in college. Over the summer provide your students with continued support. Guide students in all of the steps required to enroll in courses, pay tuition and other fees, activate financial aid packages, and arrange housing.
If you and your school do not have the resources to dedicate time or a counselor to summer counseling, look into partner organizations. A mentor organization or volunteers can help to remind students of all steps needed to successfully begin college. If possible, assign each student to someone who can check in with them regularly over the summer.
Encourage students to attend early orientation programs provided by the college or university of their choice. Orientation may make students excited about attending school in the Fall and encourage them to complete the final steps to enrollment. If a majority of your students attend several of the same colleges, you can arrange for each student to be matched with a college student who can not only motivate them but provide peer mentoring to ensure that they are completing all of the correct steps for starting classes on time.
Another system suggested by the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University is the use of text message or email. In this system, students receive an email or text message blast reminding them of upcoming deadlines or tasks that must be complete before the start of the new school year. The Education Advisory Board (EAB) suggests one message per week to keep students engaged in the process of matriculation. Some schools use social media as another way of contacting students. In any way that contact comes, students should receive valuable information that ensures they meet all deadlines.
Summer Melt Takeaways
No matter how you accomplish it, researchers seem to agree that contact with students over the summer is key. Whether you are able to maintain this contact in person or digitally, providing students with encouragement and support can help students stay on track to start school on time.