Program Director Ms. Edwards shares advice to the graduating class of high school seniors and the teachers supporting them.
Each summer, 10% to 40% of high school students intend to enroll in college the fall after graduation but never actually do so (1). In recent years, this phenomenon, known as “summer melt,” has been exacerbated by pandemic-related challenges and our country is facing a growing college enrollment crisis. OneGoal and our partner organization Achieve Atlanta are dedicated to preventing and addressing summer melt, especially for the first-generation college students we serve.
What is Summer Melt?
Summer is a critical time to support high school graduates’ college readiness. As challenges arise over the summer months, individual and compounding factors contribute to students who planned to attend a college or other postsecondary pathway “melting” and not attending in the fall. Students most underrepresented on college campuses—students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and first-generation students—are most susceptible to the pitfalls of summer melt because they historically aren’t provided the same resources and opportunities as their peers. Therefore, it’s important for parents, teachers, and student advocates to understand these underlying causes of summer melt and provide support to prevent and address it.
Some of the most common causes of summer melt are financial needs, like being unable to pay a registration fee; social-emotional challenges that go unaddressed; logistics setbacks, like not being able to attend orientation; and communication gaps, like missing an important college email. Without support to problem-solve and overcome these hurdles, melting occurs. OneGoal partner organization Achieve Atlanta works with district and college access partners to provide quality college advising and access to financial support to Atlanta Public Schools students.
Korynn Schooley, Vice President, College Access of Achieve Atlanta shared, “Summer melt can look like many things beyond simply not going to college. ‘Melting’ can also mean students changing plans last-minute that might negatively impact them in the long-run, like enrolling in a school that is cheaper but that isn’t a strong academic match.” These changes often lead to students being less likely to earn their degrees. “When you think about it with this broader scope, it’s a reality check for the people on the ground supporting students (counselors, teachers, and others) just how common summer melt is among recent high school graduates.”
Preventing + Addressing Summer Melt
Preventing summer melt before it happens is built into how OneGoal works. We intentionally created a model that bridges high school to postsecondary, proactively supporting all of our students (Fellows) for an entire year out of high school regardless of their postsecondary enrollment status. As Krismin Inocentes Bell, Executive Director of OneGoal in the Bay Area, describes, “During the summer after high school graduation, all students can expect to meet with a coach at least once a month, receive weekly text nudges and a monthly newsletter, and our students can request emergency funding to address financial obstacles standing in the way of enrollment.”
Starting early to build students’ self-advocacy—before summer even begins—is also crucial for preventing summer melt, and sometimes it takes a village. Korynn shared, “You don’t have to be an expert to support students. The adults who provide the best support to students during the summer aren’t professional financial aid advisors; instead, they’re the people who are able to make the strongest connections with students. Some students just need a listening ear, someone who will give them a confidence boost or support them in navigating postsecondary bureaucracies. Think broadly about who in your school community can help.”
Terrell Garrett, Senior Director of Coaching and Persistence for OneGoal in New York, balances the needs of that support village: “For educators, summer is a time to detach and recharge and given what we are still going through, a break is definitely needed. However, given what’s a stake, you have to be strategic and thoughtful with how you design your break. Remaining an active presence in your students’ lives can be the key to reducing summer melt. Whether it’s texting, direct support, or a combination of both which I suggest, put a plan on paper and see it through, that way you can be intentional and most importantly, responsive to your students’ needs during this time. This will allow you to operate from a proactive standpoint, rather than a reactive one.”
OneGoal’s team in Chicago developed an innovative pilot program to prevent and address summer melt for students across the city. Summer Hub is a one-stop-shop website, AI-powered chatbot, and texting service to support students as they begin adulthood and pursue their postsecondary path. It’s focused on making resources about college and career readiness more visible and accessible. “We’ve found the most effective summer melt support happens when we can deliver the right information to students at the right time. We’re threading the needle between the “just in case” information that can prevent students from falling off track, and the “just in time” information that addresses challenges when they arise” shared Lina Fritz, Managing Director of Program Innovation for OneGoal in Chicago. Summer Hub doesn’t take the place of critical relationships, it complements them; Lina describes it as “a tool that those hard working counselors, teachers, and other trusted adults can utilize to make their job easier.”
Achieve Atlanta recognizes that there is not one single solution nor one organization that can solve Summer Melt. Korynn shared that part of that work “is making sure that we, as a collective group of organizations, are tackling summer melt. We’ve tried to be strategic about using the expertise and capacity of all the different stakeholders, as well as thinking about who has strong relationships with students. So that means using texting programs to send reminders to a targeted set of students about common summer tasks like enrolling for orientation and sending in final transcripts to colleges. And, for other students who may need more hands-on support, we provide more proactive outreach to meet one-on-one with a school counselor or other support provider to walk through postsecondary options or engage with the student’s family about college costs or other complicated decisions.”
This summer, it’s more important than ever for OneGoal and our peer organizations to combine efforts to prevent and address summer melt. Together, we can provide comprehensive support to the students who need it most and ensure they continue on their postsecondary paths to success.
(1) Strategic Data Project Summer Melt Handbook: A Guide to Investigating and Responding to Summer Melt, Center for Education Policy Research, Harvard University