Ways to Reduce Summer Melt in Higher Ed

Amy Jenkins
January 19, 2023

Admissions Solutions for the Summer Melt

From admissions staff to financial aid officers, higher education staff fear the annual summer melt. The term ‘summer melt’ is used to describe the number of students who were accepted to college but fail to register or start their first semester—and it’s a perennial issue that isn’t likely to change for admissions staff.

Georgia State University estimates that up to 40% of college-intending high school seniors fail to finalize their enrollment by fall. This has significant effects on universities and the students they serve.

The primary issue is that students miss out on higher education, the chance to acquire new skills, and develop their future earning potential.

How and why do students end up becoming part of the annual summer melt? The main issue is financial difficulties, including a lack of information about the college process and financial aid. Then comes plain old procrastination.

Given the issue isn’t likely to change, universities seek to minimize summer melt in a variety of creative ways. Two of the primary ways to do this are to leverage data and offer financial solutions to students, such as NPCs.

A Personal Touch

The key to preventing summer melt is to address those two pain points felt by students: confusion about the college enrollment process and financial pressure.

Admissions staff must guide students throughout the college application process. Resources like financial aid advice, application assistance, and college readiness guidance go a long way in helping young adults transition into higher education.

It’s all about the details here. When admissions staff empower prospective students by doing things like reminding them of important deadlines, including deposit dates and orientation, they simplify the college process.

Technology is another important factor when it comes to reducing the summer melt. For example, Georgia State University developed a predictive analytics tool to identify students at risk of summer melt and then created personalized outreach plans to provide support to those students. This approach has been successful in reducing summer melt by up to 24%. When universities connect with students it makes a difference.

Diving into the Data

As outlined by the example above, one way for admissions staff to prevent summer melt is to develop targeted strategies to address it. It’s all about the details… but you also really need the data. By examining data on student demographics, college readiness, and college application behavior, admissions staff can identify patterns and trends about why and how the summer melt happens. From there, they can build creative strategies to reduce it.

For example, the Barnes & Noble College 2030 research project used data to identify the key factors that influence college enrollment decisions. These include academic and financial preparedness, the college selection process, and support from family and counselors.

To address these concerns, universities should develop resources that help students plan for success. These include reaching out to students to answer their questions directly, as well as being available to engage with students and their families. The more support they have, the more empowered students are in making decisions about higher education.

Another way universities are tackling the summer melt is by leveraging data from their NPCs. NPCs provide students with an estimate of the total cost of attendance—some tools are even personalized for specific higher ed institutions. Customized software tools can allow universities to craft their own retention plan as the summer melt season approaches.

Balancing Tech With a Student-First Approach

So far, we’ve covered two seemingly polar solutions to the summer melt. First is a personal touch from admissions and enrollment staff. By providing students with personalized assistance, whether reminding them of important dates or helping them craft a financial plan to pay for college, staff can address the primary causes of the summer melt. Personalized engagement also helps offset issues like procrastination.

Second is the correct usage of technology. Georgia State University relied on data to determine which students were at risk of the summer melt, then created personalized plans for their success. Additionally, NPCs can be used to help students determine what they’ll owe for higher education. These software tools can help admissions staff address financial uncertainty amongst students who aren’t sure what they’ll owe.

By balancing tech with a student-first approach, admissions staff can empower their incoming students and offset issues like the summer melt.

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