Summer Strategies To Keep Students on Track for College–Evidence Blast


July 2013


students and a teacher sitting at a table in a classroom

Our Evidence Blast series provides research, data, and resources to help practitioners and policymakers make important decisions about schools and students.

According to a recent study by Harvard University 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 by Castleman and colleagues 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?
Castleman and colleagues 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.

About Education Northwest’s Projects in College and Career Readiness

A number of Education Northwest projects center on college and career readiness, a priority topic in our region. The Northwest Comprehensive Center helps build Northwest states’ capacity to develop rigorous instruction that supports the successful transition of all students from secondary to postsecondary education and careers. Three REL Northwest research alliances are engaged in research and technical assistance around this topic: Oregon College and Career Readiness Alliance, and Alaska State Policy and Research Alliance. Education Northwest is also a partner with Oregon Gear UP, whose goal is to increase the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary programs. Contact us to learn more about our work in this area.

The Evidence Blast is just one way Education Northwest provides research-based information to our region. Since 1966, we have worked to transform research into practical tools that educators and policymakers can use to improve teaching and learning. In addition to helping clients collect and interpret meaningful data, we offer evidence-based answers to questions about practice and policy through our free Ask A REL service. Sign up to receive additional education research blasts and other news.