Moving From Avoiding Summer Melt To Ensuring College Success

On the high impact philanthropy blog we’ve discussed summer slide, when gains during the school year are lost during the summer (see Make Summer Count and School’s Almost Out, Make Sure Learning Isn’t). We’ve also discussed summer melt, when high school graduates who have earned admission to college don’t show up in the fall. Now is the time when students around the country – and around the world – are transitioning to college campuses to pursue post-secondary education. For disadvantaged students, here’s what it takes to ensure these students not only show up, but succeed:

  • Financial resources for tuition through scholarships and federal Pell grants. In addition to financial aid provided by schools, nonprofit programs such as Say Yes to Education, I Have a Dream Foundation, and public/private partnerships such as San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College program (K2C) all work to ensure that the cost of tuition does not prove to be a barrier for college success.
  • Non-tuition financial resources to help pay for costs such as housing, food, and transportation, and offset lost income when a member of a family pursues a post-secondary degree. Even when tuition is covered, the inability to cover other costs associated with going to college can prevent students from succeeding. Nonprofits like Single Stop, which provide information and access to non-tuition benefits for which students may be eligible, is one example of how funders can fill that gap.
  • High-quality counseling to help navigate the admissions process and ensure a good fit between student and school. The Chicago Cohort Study found that among Chicago public school students with 4.0 GPA in high school, there was incredible variety in their college drop-out rate based on which college they attended. Nonprofits like uAspire are working to identify the characteristics of colleges and universities where historically underrepresented students are most likely to succeed. Such knowledge can improve the quality of counseling for students applying to college.
  • Non-financial support while in college. Especially for students who are the first in their family to pursue a post-secondary degree, arriving at college can feel a little like landing on Mars. Nonprofits like Questbridge and the Posse Foundation both provide financial support and form support networks which can help students navigate the many social and academic challenges of college, from choosing courses, to asking for help when needed, to finding a close group of friends. Successful charter schools such as KIPP have also begun to put in place college-supports for graduates, including alumni networks and ongoing mentor relationships.

Finally, the Gates Foundation Millennium Scholars Programs supports a cohort of nonprofits – such as American Indian Graduate Center, Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, College Success FoundationHispanic Scholarship Fund, and United Negro College Fund – all devoted to college success for historically underrepresented communities, and sometimes working in partnership with many of the organizations listed above.

In a world where college success has become a proxy for life success, for donors focused on impact, it’s not enough to ensure that this incoming cohort of college students avoid the summer melt and actually arrive. The real payoff comes in ensuring that once in college, they thrive.