I heard an interesting story on NPR's Morning Edition as I drove into work this morning. The piece was called, "Why Poor Students' College Plans 'Melt' Over the Summer." Research by Lindsay Page and Ben Castleman of Harvard University shows that 20 percent of low-income students who are accepted to a post-secondary institution do not show up in the fall. That rate is higher (40 percent) among students who plan to attend community colleges. Researchers are calling this phenomenon "summer melt."
Page and Castleman found that there are a variety of factors contributing to "summer melt:" a lack of role models in these students' lives, a lack of resources, being the first in the family going to college, their peers aren't going. There is also paperwork to finish, including financial aid, and it is often more of a challenge for lower income families to confront these tasks. Furthermore, over the summer there is a gap in guidance services available. High school guidance counselors typically work 9 - 10 months of the year and are therefore not available during the summer. And the post-secondary institutions don't yet see these students as their responsibility.
In Fulton County, Georgia, researchers tested the theory that providing access to counselors over the summer would help students make the bridge from high school to post-secondary. High school counselors were brought back over the summer to target students heading to college. Low-income families took advantage of this opportunity and Fulton County saw its "summer melt" rate decrease 8 percentage points.
It's an interesting idea, especially if the results can be replicated in other districts. But, as is often the case, this begs the question, "How does the district?" Duval County, like many districts in the country, is spread thin financially when it comes to providing guidance counselors. Where can we find funding to extend the work year for some of these counselors in order to provide the summer support that students need to complete the final steps to their post-secondary education?
Is this an opportunity for post-secondary institutions to partner with school districts? Perhaps the cost of providing high school counselors during the summer months could be shared between districts and colleges. Are there grants that can be pursued that would give the district funds for summer high school counselors? Is it worth paying a little more in taxes to give the district additional funding for some sort of high school to post-secondary summer bridge program (among other things)? Is there a role for community organizations to play?
What do you think? How can we ensure that students who have the intention of continuing their education in the spring maintain that aim and arrive on campus in the fall?
-- Carly Yetzer