What the Research Says About Summer Melt

Date 

April 2018

Social 

According to a study by researchers Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page, 10 to 20 percent of students who enroll in college do not end up attending in the fall. “Summer melt,” as this phenomenon is called, is even more prevalent for low-income students, students in large urban districts, and community-college bound students—with attrition rates as high as 40 percent.

The summer before college is a crucial time when many students lack support networks that they had in high school and may need help to pay tuition bills, obtain financial aid, find housing, or complete other paperwork. For first-generation college students especially, the lack of support can be daunting enough to postpone or cancel college aspirations.

To “stem the tide of summer melt,” another study suggests that high schools “stay late” and colleges “start early.” High schools can provide counseling and automatic, electronic reminders during the summer to assist students with college preparations while colleges can provide summer bridge programs to help students acclimate to college life socially and academically.

Other Research on Summer Intervention Strategies

The Forgotten Summer: Does the Offer of College Counseling the Summer After High School Mitigate Attrition Among College-Intending Low-Income High School Graduates?

Researchers found that offering college-intending graduates 2–3 hours of additional summer support increased enrollment by 3–4 percentage points overall and 8 percentage points among low-income students, at a cost of $100 to $200 per student.

Summer Nudging: Can Text Messages and Peer Mentor Outreach Increase College-Going Among Low-Income High School Graduates?

This study found that in two cases, an automated and personalized text messaging campaign to remind students of required college tasks substantially increased college enrollment for students most vulnerable to summer melt. At another site, a peer mentor intervention increased four-year college enrollment, especially for males and students with less-defined college plans. The researchers suggest that at a cost of $7 per participant for the text message campaign and $80 per participant for the peer mentor campaign, both strategies can be cost-effective approaches to increase college entry among populations traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

Summer Melts Immigrant Students’ College Plans

Many college-intending students find themselves dealing with the undermatch and summer melt phenomena. Undermatch refers to the situation where academically-successful high-school graduates choose not to go to any college or to go to a local community college not commensurate with their academic achievements. Summer melt describes how students may melt away from registering for college. Practical recommendations are provided so that educators in high schools and colleges can implement strategies to ensure that after high-school graduation immigrant students register for their selected universities.

Do College-Ready Students Benefit When High Schools and Colleges Collaborate? Experimental Evidence from Albuquerque, New Mexico

This study investigates whether college-ready, college-intending recent high school graduates benefit when high schools and universities collaborate to support their transition to college. The study found that student groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education, such as Latino males, are more susceptible to having their college plans fall apart during the summer after high school graduation. In addition, the study also showed that concentrated and targeted outreach to underrepresented groups during the summer months can have a profound effect on whether they successfully matriculate, increasing their enrollment by 13 percent. Outreach from counselors stationed at the college side was particularly effective, suggesting that proactive communication and the offer of support from students' intended college may helpfully reinforce students' sense of belonging at and welcome from higher education institutions.