Understanding—and stopping—summer melt

Solutions to tackle summer melt aren't one-size-fits-all

In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Pennsylvania student Sarah Simon discussed her research exploring patterns of summer melt and what colleges can do to curb it.  

Simon, a political science major and education policy minor, first became interested in summer melt while taking part in the Penn Public Policy Challenge. Tasked with determining a public policy issue in Philadelphia, Simon and her team took on summer melt in the city. The team has also founded a program aimed at reducing summer melt.

According to Simon, the majority of research available on summer melt deals with reasons why students fail to enroll or how nonprofits are addressing the problem. However, little research exists on how colleges view summer melt and solutions they're putting into place to fix the problem.

To learn more about how colleges are dealing with this issue, Simon surveyed the National Association for College Admissions Admission Counseling's postsecondary members to determine how summer melt varied by institution and the success of their initiatives to ameliorate it. 

Simon identified two patterns of melt: "upline melt," in which students attend a more prestigious or selective institution that the one to which they first committed, and "downline melt," in which students do the opposite, possibly due to finances, family concerns, or distance from home. Not going to college at all also falls under the category of downline melt.

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In addition, Simon found that colleges' efforts to mitigate summer melt also came in two forms:  front-end solutions and back-end solutions. The former category refers to actions taken before students show signs of melt to increase commitment to the institution, such as increasing the tuition deposit amount or communicating to students through social media. The latter category refers to actions taken when students show warning signs of melt, such as having admissions personally contact at-risk students.

According to Simon, while nearly all institutions can take part in front-end solutions, back-end solutions may be more difficult to implement, especially at larger public colleges that lack the staff needed to make personal contact with vulnerable students.

"I think everyone should pay attention to front-end solutions, but the back-end solutions are important as well, because the admissions officers I spoke to seemed to think it was the more effective way of mitigating summer melt," Simon said. "You're literally stopping melt from occurring if you're talking to students who might have just ended up not coming because no one reached out to them."

The next question to figure out, Simon said, is where are all the students who don't go to college at all melting from? She also wants to look into how patterns of summer melt change throughout the season, whether students are melting up or down, and where students are coming from and going to (Supiano, Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/11). 

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