School’s Out: From Summer Slide to Summer Melt

The kids can taste it:  the end of school is almost here.  With the start of summer come long days of play, hanging out with friends, sometimes boredom, and, for many kids, an opportunity to lose many of the math and reading skills gained over the past school year.

The phenomenon is called the “summer slide,” and it is especially detrimental to kids from low-income families without access to many of the high-quality summer enrichment programs (camps, family trips, and so forth) available to wealthier peers.  For more about how to support programs combatting the summer slide, check out CHIP’s previous blog posts: Making Summer Count and School’s Almost Out: Make Sure Learning Isn’t.

But summer also ushers in a separate challenge.  When high school seniors who show signs of intending to go to college (e.g. they take the requisite tests, apply and are accepted to college, and graduate from high school) fail to show up in the fall, that has been dubbed the “summer melt.” Researchers estimate that between 10% and 40% of college-intending seniors do not end up matriculating in the fall, with low and moderate-income students being more likely not to make the transition.

Why does this happen?  Even after a student is accepted to college, there are a series of tasks and deadlines that have to be met before fall matriculation, including filling out forms for housing and financial aid.  Once a student has graduated from high school, he or she no longer has access to guidance counselors to remind them of deadlines or help with questions or forms.  Particularly for first-generation college going students, clearing the last paperwork hurdles can seem too difficult.  And when college-eligible students end up not going to college, both they and we as a society frequently lose out on higher incomes, tax revenues, and economic productivity.

So what can donors do?  Researchers studying summer melt have pulled together a very clear and helpful handbook to help districts quantify and take action to minimize summer melt. Researchers Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page have also found that using text message reminders for students is a low-cost strategy that can help reduce melt.

Donors that have a particular link to either a district or a university or community college could check to see what strategies they already have in place to reduce summer melt, and perhaps fund an expanded strategy which could include both automated reminders and the provision of additional guidance resources for students over the summer.  For an example of how a St. Louis-based non-profit piloted a summer melt reduction program, click here.

Whether you work to address summer slide or summer melt, consider making growing and protecting student achievement part of your summer goals.