[UPDATED SPRING 2020] A study from The University of California - Davis has renewed national discussion on the problem of "summer melt." Summer melt refers to the disturbing trend that, of students who are preparing to attend college in the fall, 10-40 percent will not enroll their fall semester.
According to Inside Higher Ed, in 2015, "more than 471,000 California students received Pell Grants. But the researchers discovered that more than 20 percent of the state's two-year college students who successfully applied for aid, demonstrated their financial eligibility and enrolled in the required number of credits still did not receive federal aid."
While these particular stats are specific to California, the problem of summer melt is one that affects students nationwide. The study reveals that the FAFSA verification process negatively impacts low income students at far greater rates than others.
Previous studies have calculated the amount of aid left on the table by students who could have been eligible but didn't apply. For example, a national study by the Campaign for College Opportunity found that in 2014, nearly 1.5 million high school graduates failed to complete the FAFSA, leaving about $2.7 billion in Pell Grants unused.
-Inside Higher Ed
We would love to hear and share all educators' own preferred methods to help students avoid summer melt! Below is an excerpt from a blog written by Danielle Cannady, adviser at Genesys Works. She shared her own experience, as well as the tip to use the Harvard Strategic Data Project Summer Melt Handbook.
Danielle's top three strategies:
- Start early
In my experience working with students during summer melt, it makes a significant difference when you begin your advising and interventions. At the beginning of every summer, my organization sends out a survey to see exactly where our students are with completing enrollment steps. We use the results of our survey to estimate which of our students are at the greatest risk of not enrolling in the fall. From there, I meet with students on the list to advise and encourage them to continue completing their enrollment.
My advice is to use the month of May to establish a baseline of which students are most vulnerable to the heat of summer melt. Once you compile this list of students, begin reaching out to them as soon as possible to establish rapport and a plan for finishing enrollment.
- Watch out for surprises
There’s a quote that says, “if plan A doesn’t work, don’t worry, the alphabet has 25 more letters”. As someone who works with students that struggle to pay for college and are often the first in their family to go to college, this most certainly is the case. Though I meticulously craft my list of students at risk of summer melt, every single year I add 10-15 more students as the summer progresses. Last minute changes in aid or an unexpected family crisis can turn a green flag student into red instantly.
My advice is not to focus summer melt advising only on red flag students. Though I spend the bulk of my summer meeting with students at increased risk for melt, I also use Signal Vine, a texting platform, to send critical reminders to all students regarding important deadlines for college.
- Ramp up services for the first week of school
In my first year working with students transitioning from high school to college, I thought the first week of school was my finish line! Wooh! My students made it this far so they’re good to go to go-right? Wrong! Many students (including those who were previously okay) need support as they start fall semester. Between loans not disbursing, strange holds on students’ accounts, or other last minute issues, the first week of school is often when college counselors’ work overtime to help students successfully transition to college.
My advice is to prepare to ramp up services during the first week of college. In my office, our entire team pulls double shifts this week. We meet with each other’s students and field calls, and emails from concerned students. It’s definitely an “all hands on deck” situation that my team and I have learned to anticipate. Chat with your college support staff about what your plan will be for this busy week.