Summer Melt: Preparedness and Prevention

Let’s talk about summer melt.

As the summer months approach, we begin to look back on the achievements of another long, yet rewarding school year. Among our more gratifying accomplishments was helping onward- and upward-aspiring youths successfully navigate the college-going process; the youths to whom we dedicate our efforts. We consider the following items that were crossed off our mental to-do list:

  • Weeks upon weeks of college applications? Done.
  • Cash Campaigning? FAFSA? Complete.
  • Admissions decisions? Admitted.
  • College Decision Day? Committed.
  • Measure the prevalence of summer melt among graduates of your high school(s);
  • Help students to identify pre-enrollment engagement opportunities at the institution they plan to attend, such as summer bridge and cultural experiences; and
  • Design a summer intervention customized to the needs and realities of your community, which may include targeted outreach efforts and accountability partners.

At this point, we may find ourselves grinning like the Cheshire cat of Alice in Wonderland, as we watch our beloved students prepare for their final days of high school, their big graduation day, and the next steps toward realizing their postsecondary dreams. The only thing standing between our students and those dreams are the sands of time…

But with promise in mind, what do we find from variables intertwined with these sands of time?
The answer to this rhyme is not always fine, as we seem to observe decline at the final finish line.
Melt is what we call it. Summer melt to be exact. It’s a nasty, casted character; you should see this as fact.

Summer melt is a phenomenon that affects students who, during the spring, demonstrate verifiable intent to enroll in college, but for various reasons, fail to enroll in the fall. These students have usually completed key college-going steps, such as achieving acceptance, applying for financial aid, and having signed their letter of acceptance.  Across the country, 10–40 percent of seemingly college-intending students do not enroll in college the fall after high school graduation.

There are many potential culprits for this phenomenon. Included among these are financial constraint, family obligation, immediate-term attractive job opportunity, and informational barriers. These barriers are particularly significant for low-income, minority, and first-generation college-going students, who typically lack the navigational capital of their college-intending peers.

Fortunately, counseling interventions that provide continued outreach and guidance for college-intending students have shown significant potential to alleviate summer melt.  Education researchers Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page are leaders in the field regarding this phenomenon. Through multiple studies on intervention, they have identified promising new approaches that include offering additional summer counseling hours, counselor-led text-message campaigns, and peer-to-peer mentoring. The intent is to help students solidify their college-going plans, rather than "melting."

So what can you do to help? There are a number of steps you can take in the immediate term, to support students who plan to enroll in college this fall:

  • Measure the prevalence of summer melt among graduates of your high school(s);
  • Help students to identify pre-enrollment engagement opportunities at the institution they plan to attend, such as summer bridge and cultural experiences; and
  • Design a summer intervention customized to the needs and realities of your community, which may include targeted outreach efforts and accountability partners.

What is MCAN doing? We’re currently exploring opportunities to implement comprehensive summer-melt intervention strategies in Michigan high schools. This effort would begin with the upcoming class of postsecondary education aspirants. These strategies include the procurement of a contract that would make a text-messaging platform available to high school counselors. This platform would enable counselors to connect with students through pre-scheduled, automated communications. The messages would remind students of important deadlines, and permit customized messages depending on schools' preferences. As with all MCAN statewide initiatives, these efforts are only successful through the collaborative efforts of state and local stakeholders.

We look forward to the continued development of programming that helps increase educational attainment for Michigan citizens. Look out for summer melt updates in the coming months!

 

IsaiahBaileyAuthor: Isaiah Bailey, education fellow, Michigan College Access Network

Posted: May 19, 2015

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