Concerned about summer melt? So is everyone else.
Here are some resources from our experts:
What is summer melt?
If you're new to the term, summer melt refers to both students who go elsewhere and those who do not attend anywhere. Specifically, it refers to students who paid a deposit at an institution, only to attend a different college or university (usually of similar perceived quality), or high school graduates who seemingly intended to enroll in college in the fall but didn’t follow through.
Research reveals many college-bound students encounter a range of obstacles during the post-high school summer that can lead them to change or abandon their college plans. During this period, students are no longer members of their high schools and have yet to become integrated into a college community, leaving them isolated from professional guidance and support to address summer-specific challenges.
As a result, a surprisingly high proportion of seemingly college-bound students fail to enroll in college in the fall after high school graduation.
Who is most likely to melt?
Students from families with parents who have not graduated from college, considered "first-generation", represent 40% of the melt at community colleges and 20% at four-year institutions. A large portion of the US population falls into this category: according to a 2019 study by the Department of Education, 59% of children under the age of 18 live in households with parents who do not have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
When prospective students are unable to draw from the experiences of parents who have previously navigated these processes, they’re at a distinct disadvantage and can become overwhelmed—the college search, application, and financial aid processes are complicated for prospects under the best of circumstances. To mitigate the loss of these students, schools should institute additional support systems, simple processes, and remove as many barriers to entry as possible.
Summer melt is estimated to be twice as high for students who come from low-income backgrounds. (Many first-generation prospective students also fall into this category.) In the US,18% of students under the age of 18 come from families living in poverty. Low-income students have more financial concerns and their college intentions are also more likely to be derailed by family or financial challenges. Examples are:
Difficulty filling out the FAFSA
Fees that might be considered nominal to others but are prohibitive to low-income families
- Families that require them to contribute financially
College counselors at under-resourced high schools may be handling up to 900 students at a time with little ability to spend concentrated time with a greater number of students who need it most, which results in less support in SAT preparation, college coaches, essay writing, and more. To mitigate the loss of these students, schools should institute additional support systems, simple processes, and remove as many financial barriers to entry as possible.
Generation Z Savvy Consumers
Competitive students, those with friends disbursing to other colleges, or those simply hedging their bets, make deposits at multiple institutions, usually of similar perceived quality—which makes it difficult to predict true incoming enrollment numbers. It is estimated that, per larger institution, an average of 75 prospective students have double-deposited. Generation Z, generally defined as those born in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, are savvy consumers and are not known for brand loyalty. (81% are willing to switch from their favorite brand if they find a similar product at higher quality.) With this mindset, a Generation Z student with credentials to get admitted into multiple quality institutions is likely to keep their options open until the very end. To mitigate the loss of these students, an institution has to be the brand that stands out amongst the pack.
Out Of Area/Out Of State Students
Prior to COVID-19, living away from home for the first time could be a daunting prospect for burgeoning adults—many of whom have never left their city or town before. The pandemic has only made things more difficult to navigate and more difficult to build relationships. Research has shown that if a student has connections with nine or more students after being admitted, they are 93% more likely to attend that institution. Include parents in your relationship-building communications—if parents feel confident in an institution, this will likely be communicated to the prospective student. To mitigate the loss of these students, an institution should build strong relationships with prospects, utilizing everything from technology to personnel to ensure these prospective students feel a strong connection and familiarity with an institution's campus life. They should also prioritize parents as critical partners. Lastly, they should also make "moving in" as seamless and fun as possible!
Why does summer melt happen?
In each of the above categories of prospective students, you probably noticed several potential reasons summer melt may happen. Here is a comprehensive, but not an exhaustive list:
- Loss of high school support network
- Diminished support network
- Non-existent support network
- Overwhelmed by the process
- Overwhelmed by incurring debt
- Overwhelmed by familial needs
- Overwhelmed by outside pressures (summer job, etc.)
- Overwhelmed by moving out of area/state
- Overwhelmed by difficult decisions
- Unexpected financial fees
- Unexpected financial demands
- Competitive student applying to multiple locations
- Gen Z hedging their bets by applying to multiple locations
- Gen Z applying to multiple locations due to previous relationships
- Lack of relational connection to students and student life
- Anxiety about leaving family
- Anxiety about leaving friends
- Anxiety about incurring debt
- Anxiety about "fitting in"
- Anxiety about larger class sizes
- Negative experiences
- Waitlist releases
Why does summer melt matter?
As institutions take steps to recover to pre-pandemic enrollment levels, they will need to implement a strategy to curtail the loss of prospective students and appeal to non-traditional students. Generation Z is well-over 67 million in the US, comprising over 30% of the world's population. Any successful enrollment recovery will need to include Generation Z, first-generation, low-income, and out-of-area students. On average, private institutions spend $1,086 per recruit while public institutions spend $214 per recruit. To succeed, institutions must spend their limited marketing and recruitment dollars on the right initiatives and in ways that maximize ROI to bring in the largest number of right-fit students.
Institutions must address the numerous obstacles preventing at-risk prospective students from showing up in the fall: personal, financial, emotional, psychological, and academic. In order to address these obstacles, first, they will need to fully understand the personas to which they market and be intimately aware of the real (and not imagined) pathway to college and its roadblocks. Second, they will need to ensure their value stands heads above cross-app institutions. (For an unbiased evaluation of your school's value messaging, contact Value Based.) Third, they will need to take action to remove these obstacles to make the transition to college life the natural next step. For seven strategic actions to take, listen to our 7 Ways To Chill Summer Melt Webinar.
Strategic Data Project, Harvard University, https://sdp.cepr.harvard.edu/files/cepr-sdp/files/sdp-summer-melt-handbook.pdf
Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2020 Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student Report, https://learn.ruffalonl.com/rs/395-EOG-977/images/2020_CostRecruiting_Report.pdf