Keeping students on track: How to identify and address ‘Summer Melt’

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For most students, receiving a college acceptance letter symbolizes the beginning of an exciting and rewarding journey. They breathe a sigh of relief as they head into high school graduation, knowing that they have the whole summer ahead to spend time with their friends and prepare for the transition to college life.

But for many students, that transition never happens. In fact, each year, between 10 and 40 percent of students accepted to college in the springtime don’t show up for the first day of school in the fall. This phenomenon is known as “summer melt,” when students who are seemingly bound for college become dissuaded in the summer months and decide that obtaining a postsecondary credential isn’t realistic for them.

Summer melt is a problem for all students, but research shows that students from low-income families are disproportionately affected. Sometimes the reasons are complex—students don’t always have role models to motivate and guide them through the transition from high school to college. Often times, students simply don’t have access to the information they need to complete the necessary paperwork or apply for financial aid.

That’s why more and more communities across the country are working to identify summer melt in their schools and tackle it head on. In Kansas City, Missouri, university staff are providing free advising to college-bound students from June to August. In Washington, DC, local organizations are organizing workshops on the precollege experience, covering everything from time management and relationship building to how students from diverse backgrounds can adapt to college life.

New research from Harvard University’s Strategic Data Project has shined more light on the causes of and solutions to summer melt. The Summer Melt Handbook serves as a resource for education leaders who are looking to diagnose and address the issue. It allows educators to:

  • measure the magnitude of summer melt among their high school graduates,
  • design a summer intervention customized to the needs and realities of their school community,
  • learn how different school systems addressed the summer melt phenomenon across several large education agencies, and
  • gain insight into the positive impact of additional outreach and support for students during the post-high school summer.
Download the full SDP Summer Melt Handbook here.