National statistics estimate that up to 40% of students will melt from their postsecondary plans between graduation and the fall. While this “summer melt” phenomenon can impact all postsecondary pathways, the most critical need for support is found among 4-year college-bound students (20% average melt rate nationally) and 2-year college-bound students (40% average melt rate nationally) with low income and first-generation students leading in the need for support. The number and complexity of required steps following Senior Signing Day, including submitting a deposit to an institution, registering for classes, and navigating the first tuition bill, can present questions and concerns for students and families. Many times, these complexities start to develop after a student graduates when traditional high school support staff, such as school counselors, are on summer break.
At the RISE Network, in a targeted effort to combat summer melt, we provide a two-step approach to our campaign over six key weeks in the summer. The first step involves sending “nudge” text messages to graduated seniors with critical information about their selected postsecondary pathways, which is intended to help them overcome common stumbling blocks. The second step involves a dedicated staff person who responds to student responses and schedules one-on-one appointments with students (in person or virtually) for key matriculation support to keep them on track.
At Maloney High School in Meriden, CT, Summer Melt Coordinator Robert Lalla (who also serves as special education teacher, case manager, senior advisor, and cross-country coach) took their program a step further. In the initial weeks, he coordinated a number of site visits to local community colleges, during which he would help students, in real-time, complete necessary steps for enrollment through the admissions, registrar, and financial aid offices. He helped them to navigate the Pledge to Advance CT (PACT) program and supported them as they explored work-study opportunities. “You could tell kids felt better about things once they were there, on the campus, and talking to college representatives,” Lalla said.
Lalla’s innovative approach in communicating with students was extremely well received by Maloney’s graduated students. Recording instructional videos on YouTube on a weekly basis, Lalla embedded those videos in the Signal Vine app used to send text messages to students. He said this helped provide further insights into what students should be working on when, increased engagement, and helped bridge communication gaps. For example, he worked with a number of undocumented students who needed very targeted support with completing and submitting specific forms, which he addressed in his videos. Overall, Lalla said he interacted with over 120 students with an engagement rate of over 30 percent, exceeding his expectations. “I was blown away by the students; they want to succeed,” he said “and I’ll do whatever I can to facilitate that.”
Over the last few years, the RISE Network’s summer melt program has evolved through feedback from summer melt coordinators and students regarding their experiences. “In the first year, the model of sending text message reminders to students was piloted in 2 of our network schools,” said Rebecca Kruge, RISE Senior Postsecondary Success Coach and project lead for summer melt. “In the past three years, given the program’s growing success, it has been scaled to include all nine of our core network schools, with increased and intentional efforts to let students and families know about the strategy and the availability of the program.” This summer, coordinators utilized the new RISE Data Hub, allowing the summer melt work to be grounded in data. The Hub allowed school counselors in June to identify students on their caseload that could benefit from the support of the summer melt program which created a strong bridge for students during this transition.
The student journey within the summer melt program looks different across pathways and the various needs for support. A student might receive several reminder messages and then receive a message asking what they need support for. As an example, one student in the network had received messages reminding them about the PACT program, college orientation, and their login information. Once they received a reminder about registering, they realized they had forgotten to do so. It was this text that made all the difference; “Hi! After you complete your orientation, the next step is to get registered for classes. Reply yes or no if you registered for classes.” After the emphatic, “help!” response from the student, their coordinator connected them with their Guided Pathway Advisor at CT State, created an appointment, and kept them on track for PACT funding and to start classes in the fall, debt free. This is one of many examples of how students across Connecticut are being supported even after they cross the stage and receive their diplomas.
Our network is filled with wins and messages that are similar to this student’s journey. This year, across our network, schools sent out a collective 33,244 text messages to the 2,518 graduated seniors. We saw the highest responses to messages asking students to confirm their plans and reminding them of their key milestones for that plan, just like our student example above. We also saw students engaging with questions about financial aid and FAFSA, which led to a 2.64 percent increase in FAFSA completion across all nine core network schools. At the conclusion of the program on August 4, nearly half of the students in the program had responded to at least one text message to receive help, which serves as both a celebration and a reminder of the importance of this key program in helping students continue on their pathway and have continued success.