When the last bell rings signaling the start of summer, the structure of a youth’s life changes drastically from a full day of activity to, sometimes, an overwhelming amount of free time. For those teens heading off to college, the summer before their freshman year is a crucial time to prepare for a new chapter in life. While efforts are underway to improve college access and degree completion for low-income students, one aspect that has eluded policymakers and teachers is the phenomenon known as “summer melt.”
Summer melt occurs between high school graduation and the beginning of college, when many enrolled teens, especially those coming from low economic areas, simply do not make it to campus on the first day of class. According to an article in the New England Journal of Higher Education, “while college admissions officers have been aware of summer melt for at least a decade, low-income high school graduates are quite susceptible to having their college plans change during the summer months following graduation.”
The causes of summer melt are diverse, including insufficient financial aid, incomplete paperwork, missed deadlines, new and confusing paperwork, and a lack of social and emotional support from family and friends. Some students hesitate to give up their current situation for the uncertainties of college, even if in the long-term they would likely benefit from higher education.
During the school year, these issues are alleviated by the availability of college counselors and teachers who help keep students on track by answering questions, prompting students to meet deadlines and keeping them motivated. Unfortunately, when summer hits, teens are often left alone with a lot of unanswered questions. Research indicates that providing college-bound high school graduates with additional support during the summer months has a significant and positive impact on attendance in the fall by keeping them on track and empowered.
To alleviate summer melt, a local nonprofit network, St. Louis Graduates, is piloting a High School to College Center for students transitioning from high school into post-secondary education. Operated day-to-day through collaborations with local volunteers and organizations, including Wyman, the drop-in center will be open daily throughout the summer and give students the opportunity to meet with professional college counselors, figure out financial aid, find housing, complete necessary paperwork, access computers and printers and address any other problems that may arise during the summer.
Local collaborations, like this one, are a powerful way to support teens to success. Learn more about St. Louis Graduates’ High School to College Center at www.stlgraduates.org.