Summer is an exciting time for high school graduates who intend to enroll in a postsecondary program. They’ve made it to the finish line! They’ve taken the ACT/SAT (often multiple times), applied to schools, applied for financial aid, deciphered admissions and financial aid awards and made big decisions about their futures, and, in many cases, paid tuition and housing deposits – all before they walk across the stage at graduation.
But for first-generation and low-income students, summer is also a time when they are at risk. Despite being college-ready and having displayed behaviors that would lead one to believe they will go to college, a significant number of first-generation, low-income students don’t show up on campus in the fall. In the college access world, we call this summer melt.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of college eligible students “melt” over the summer for a number of reasons, many of which have to do with being unfamiliar with the process of going to college and being unaware of the list of to-dos that must be completed over the summer before arriving on campus in the fall – things like registering for orientation, taking placement tests, registering for classes, completing housing forms and actually paying the tuition bill are all things that take place the summer before freshman year. Missing a deadline on one or more of these items can be the difference between a first-generation, low-income student showing up prepared or getting discouraged and not showing up at all in September.
Enrolling in and completing a postsecondary degree or credential – or not – has long-term implications for the students and the communities in which they live. Individuals with bachelor’s degrees earn 65 percent more – the equivalent of $1 million over the course of a career – than their counterparts with only a high school diploma. The community benefits from having more credentialed residents, too. Areas with more college graduates have lower crime rates, enhanced community services, reduced reliance on government safety net services and a larger tax base.
It is in all of our best interest to do what we can to reduce summer melt. Here, at College Now, our advisors do “transition to college” workshops to help students anticipate all of the things that need to be done over the summer. Additionally, our scholarship recipients have to do a summer interview with our Financial Aid team to ensure they understand their financial aid awards and any potential funding gaps they may have. And finally, our scholarship recipients are paired with mentors toward the end of the summer – professionals who have navigated the college experience themselves and can help the students overcome some of the obstacles they may be facing as fall approaches.
What can you do to prevent summer melt among students you know? Talk to them to make sure they’re going to orientation and registering for classes. Guide them through the process by helping them find the on-campus resources that are there to support them and answer their questions (they ARE there). Most importantly, help them learn how to advocate for themselves when they have a problem.
Getting first-generation, low-income students to and through college really does take a village, and making sure that incoming college freshmen make it through the summer without melting is a critical step.