Supporting the Class of 2020 to Freeze Summer Melt
Over the past few months our world shifted due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and now many aspects of our everyday life have been upended. It is not yet clear when life will return to a sense of normalcy, but during this uncertain time, one thing should remain certain—high school seniors attending college in the fall.
Recent surveys suggest that many students are reconsidering their postsecondary plans for the next year, and one survey by SimpsonScarborough found that COVID-19 is negatively impacting minority students more than white students—making them more uncertain about enrolling in the fall. The events that have unfolded over the past few weeks, including the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, have also highlighted the many racial injustices that we see not only in the justice system but that we know exist in the education system as well.
This notion of students not enrolling in college in the fall despite their intentions to do so is not a new concept—though it has been exacerbated by the educational and economic disruption caused by the pandemic. This occurrence is called “Summer Melt” and it is the phenomenon of college-intending students who have applied to, been accepted by, and made a deposit to a college or university, but fail to matriculate to that college (or any other) in the fall following their high school graduation.
Students can fail to enroll or attend college for any number of reasons, including:
- Financial, family, and workforce circumstances
- Difficulty navigating complex forms and processes
- FAFSA verification
- Lack of access to high-quality, professional assistance
- Lack of confidence and college knowledge
Add a global pandemic to the list and the decision to forego college plans in the fall becomes that much easier.
Research shows that students who enroll in college immediately after high school are more likely to graduate from college. Not pursuing a postsecondary education can have major economic repercussions, which is even more perilous when equity gaps in postsecondary outcomes according to students’ family income, race, and ethnicity are persistent across the country. Unfortunately, as a result of COVID-19, a similar Great Recession-like job market is looming with high unemployment rates and an unstable economy. After the Great Recession, those without any postsecondary education fared particularly poorly, losing the most jobs in the recession and seeing almost no growth in the job market during the recovery. Without support structures in place, our class of 2020 will be set up for a similar fate.
As most of us begin to shift our focus to the next phase of recovery, it is important that we extend a helping hand to the high school class of 2020 to freeze the summer melt. While some policy interventions have been implemented to support high school seniors’ transition to college (i.e., extending FAFSA and decision deadlines and leveraging CARES Act funding for Summer Bridge programs), there is still more work to do.
The Greater LA Education Foundation is committed to building equity for students by highlighting areas of need and leveraging community resources so that students are healthy, prepared for college and career, and life. This work must continue well into the summer, and beyond. Most recently, Greater LA has partnered with the California Community Foundation and the Los Angeles County Office of Education to support vulnerable TK-12 students at risk of learning loss and address their social-emotional needs during the summer.
There is a role for all of us in ensuring graduating high school seniors follow through with their college plans. It is not too late to help minimize the unique challenges our students are facing. Here are some things we can do:
- Encourage students to complete the FAFSA if they haven’t done so (students attending a CA community college can still apply for a competitive Cal Grant; deadline is September 2)
- Help students review financial aid award letters and assess affordable options
- Advocate to institutions on students’ behalf
- Clearly communicate institutions’ plans for reopening
- Extend summer bridge programs and drop-in hours for graduating high school seniors
- Fill in student knowledge with access to resources and caring, expert adults (refer students to COVID College Connect)
- Equip students with skills and confidence to troubleshoot and self-advocate
- Expand summer youth employment opportunities and work-study programs to alleviate the stress students are facing from having to work to support their family
- Create meaningful online experiences for students to connect socially with each other outside of course instruction to make the online college experience more valuable to students
- Revisit existing infrastructures, policies, and programs intended to support our most vulnerable students with an equity lens and expand/extend where possible
It is crucial that school districts, counselors, teachers, college access program staff, higher education institutions, policymakers, philanthropy, and all of us that have gone through the college experience commit to working overtime to combat summer melt and ensure high school seniors successfully transition to postsecondary education in the fall.
Special Assistant to the President
Kristina Romero serves as the Special Assistant to the President of the Greater Los Angeles Education Foundation.
Previously, Kristina served as Manager of Education and Workforce Development at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and its strategic affiliate UNITE-LA. There, Kristina led L.A. Cash for College, the region’s largest financial aid literacy and college information campaign. In addition, Kristina engaged the local business community, K-12 partners, government agencies, and other civic groups to advance financial aid policy reform at the state and federal levels. With a firm grasp of both practice and policy, Kristina advised the L.A. College Promise partners on ways to better address students’ unmet financial needs.
Kristina earned her bachelor’s in education and psychology at Brown University and her Master’s in Social Work with an emphasis on community organization, planning, and administration from the University of Southern California.