Guest Blog: Summer Is Coming; Are You Ready to Stop the Melt?

Summer melt is a phenomenon by which postsecondary-intending students fail to matriculate in the fall following high school graduation. This pernicious scourge is one whose profile has increased steadily in recent years for at least two reasons. First, researchers have tested practices that reduce summer melt (e.g., texting interventions) and enriched the literature in this area. Consequently, and second, stakeholders like school leaders, teachers, counselors, and parents better understand that this phenomenon exists and that there are steps they can take to make sure students arrive on campus.

Still, up to 44% of high school graduates melt each summer, which means there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The focus on summer melt has paid off and led to the development of a number of resources for making sure students are successful at taking their next postsecondary steps. Here’s a rundown of resources that should be on the radar of anyone interested in their students’ postsecondary matriculation outcomes.

  • Freezing Summer Melt: Supporting Students from College Acceptance to Matriculation: This PowerPoint presentation hosted by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors presents a good overview of summer melt for students, parents, and practitioners and suggests some solutions for addressing it.
  • Reaching out to Reduce Melt: Strategies and Interventions for Student Success: In this webinar from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), Dr. Lindsay C. Page, one of the top researchers in the world of summer melt, discusses her findings about summer melt’s causes and the interventions that can combat it. The link in the header includes both a recording of the webinar and Dr. Page’s presentation.
  • The Strategic Data Project’s Summer Melt Tools: The Strategic Data Project, which is run by Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research, places fellows in education organizations across the country, especially K-12 school districts, to connect the right people with the right data at the right time. Their summer melt toolkit includes aSummer Melt Handbook that answers the questions “Is summer melt occurring among my students?” and  “How can my district address summer melt?” while also providing case studies of successful summer melt interventions in the field.
  • Student and Teacher Summer Melt Checklists: In the Summer Melt Handbook above, be sure to also check out the initial contact checklist for teachers and counselors as well as the one for students.Both provide targeted information for key audiences.
  • Lessons Learned from a Summer Melt Prevention Program”: This article from the Journal of College Access highlights a summer melt pilot in Kalamazoo County, MI in summer 2016. It includes clear recommendations for replication that college access programs should focus on.
  • Nudges, Norms, and Solutions: Evidence-Based Strategies to Get Students To and Through College: This guide from Ideas 42 includes “nudging” solutions for improving college access, college life and academics, and student financial outcomes. The practical guide is broken out into interventions and innovations for different purposes, which makes it particularly helpful for finding the strategy that’s right for your program context.
  • Summer Transitions: Summer Strategies for Successful Transitions from Middle to High School: Although we typically think about summer melt in the high school to college frame, transitions from middle to high school can also be tricky. This resource, also from SREB, discusses strategies that may help middle school students arrive to high school prepared for success.

Stakeholders in schools want to help students succeed in their postsecondary aspirations, but those stakeholders need to lay the groundwork to promote students’ success. College access practitioners have often told me that the road to summer melt starts long before students graduate from high school. Asking students in their junior year about their postsecondary intentions can be an early indicator for intervention, and keeping apprised of those intentions throughout senior year can flag students who may be at risk to melt.

Having a plan in place to better understand students’ post-graduation plans can be helpful in ensuring they get there. Additionally, given that fighting summer melt necessarily requires school staff to be in contact with students over the summer, a staffing plan should be in place that includes the necessary professional development and policies.

Fighting summer melt does not come together last minute; successful approaches will be purposeful and developed in advance. The resources listed above are an excellent place to start to either understand summer melt or advance a plan for addressing it.

Bill DeBaun is the director of data and evaluation at NCAN, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that represents more than 450 organizations working toward improving college access and success for underrepresented students.