Programs aim to stem summer melt among lower-income students

Colleges, universities, and other higher education stakeholders are taking steps to curb “summer melt”—the term used when high school graduates who have been accepted to college in the spring and plan to attend, ultimately end up sidetracked by outside forces. Reporting on these efforts, The Washington Post cites issues with financial aid, lack of support from family members, and missed registration deadlines as key drivers of summer melt. The phenomenon is especially prevalent among low-income and first-generation students, who often lack the support systems needed to help them through the enrollment process.

Schools freezing summer melt

Institutions’ push to enroll more students from traditionally underserved groups has “cast a spotlight” on summer melt. While some schools have for years factored summer melt into their admissions calculations, a growing number of stakeholders are implementing programs to combat the drop-off.

In 2016, Georgia State University rolled out an automated text message program that notified students about financial aid requirements and enrollment deadlines to keep them on track. Research shows that the messages sent to more than 3,000 students helped lower Georgia State’s melt rate from 18 percent in 2016 to 14 percent in 2017.

The nonprofit District of Columbia College Access Program—which counsels about 3,300 public high school seniors annually to ensure they have a plan for postsecondary education—has launched a similar effort. Having seen positive results from a pilot effort last year, the program since May has sent graduating seniors weekly reminder texts.

Some experts, however, question whether these programs actually help incoming students. “The more that others do for you, it can hinder what you do for yourself,” Jay P. Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, told The Washington Post. “The texting intervention is essentially industrial-scale parenting. Some kids might need that extra push. But with other kids, it might hurt them.”

The impact of intervention

Still, proponents point to the enrollment benefits of these types of initiatives. The Center for Educational Policy and Research at Harvard University, for instance, encourages school districts to replicate a program developed by the Fort Worth Independent School District that offered recent high school graduates counseling and assistance either in-person or over the phone. According to the Center, the enrollment rates of participating students were 5 percentage points higher than those of a prior cohort, while the enrollment rates of peers at non-participating schools were 4 percentage points lower.

How Georgetown helps first-generation students thrive

Georgetown University is committed to ensuring that all students have the resources and support they need to succeed. Georgetown’s 50-year-old Community Scholars Program prepares its multicultural cohort of first-generation college students for success with a five-week academic summer program and ongoing support. Learn more about Georgetown’s Community Scholars Program.

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