Every year around this time, my Facebook feed fills up with one of my favorite things: graduation photos. It is such a great time of pride and excitement for students and their families. Now that we have graduated our second group of high school seniors at OneGoal – Houston, I feel even more connected to these moments. However, in my role as executive director, I have also learned that these exclamation points can quickly turn into question marks.
As they graduate from high school, more students than ever are likely to say that they are going to college. Fast forward nearly 100 days later, and many of those same students are nowhere to be found in a college class. This concept is known as summer melt. Researchers note that summer melt affects anywhere from 10-40 percent of students nationwide, with attrition most deeply affecting students from low-income households. Addressing summer melt is even more critical for this group when nationally, only 9 percent of students from low-income households are expected to graduate from college.
At OneGoal, we know all students deserve a real opportunity to earn a college degree, and so we prioritize students who are identified as most susceptible to summer melt—those within the community who have extremely limited college options, whose GPA averages 2.75 with SAT scores around 729 or ACT around 15, and who are often first-generation college students. In Houston, we work alongside a significant amount of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)-mented students, who have access to in-state tuition and some state aid, but whose families may still shoulder most of the cost of a college education. Summer melt is very real for many of our fellows, and the stakes are too high to ignore.
When Leticia is still waiting for a financial aid award letter from her college of choice because of a multi-layered financial aid verification process, or when Hector still has not completed his required college readiness exam (known as the Texas Success Initiative Assessment, TSI) because the convoluted sign-up process is not made to be easily understood, and when Kayla does not have transportation to attend orientation on the day she needs to go to register for classes— these seemingly minor tasks become significant roadblocks to college matriculation.
For some of our fellows, the addition of familial obligations like serving as a primary caregiver or sole income earner makes enrollment even tougher. Summer melt for even one student is hard to swallow for our program directors—the incredible full-time teachers who implement OneGoal as a class during the school day—and for our entire team. We had to ask ourselves how to better address this issue at all levels of our program.
One of the most important ways in which our model is unique is that we bridge the gap between high school and college. This means the program director who has led their cohort for two years in high school continues with those same fellows through their first year of college, meaning fellows have a trusted adult who can check in on them throughout the summer toward college enrollment, and provide essential information leading to the virtual support of the third year of our program. Tackling summer melt, however, has to be a collaborative effort that includes a team of teachers, OneGoal staff and partner organizations.
We work to provide fellows with the space and time to practice the skills and habits they will use in college and also ensure they check off critical tasks from a college enrollment checklist.
Last week Gabriel, who plans to attend University of North Texas (UNT), attended one of our Summer Meet Ups, and cleared 4 out of 5 major items on his enrollment checklist within a two-hour session! He was able to develop a plan to manage indirect expenses for books, confirm his transportation to orientation, activate his student account, and research who his academic advisor will be at UNT. Meet Ups are also certified testing locations so if Gabriel needs to take his TSI assessment, he could do so during this time.
At a later Meet Up in July, Gabriel will hear directly from a TRiO representative about the importance of building community in college for social and emotional support, and immediately after he will use the laptops we have available to research the TRiO program at University of North Texas.
Fellows also have an opportunity to attend a week-long bridge program at a local university alongside soon-to-be-freshman from a number of other nonprofit programs, building community and preparation for their next step. These are just some of the summer supports we work to offer fellows. With approximately 100 days between high school graduation and the first day of college, countering summer melt means there’s no such thing as summer break in our world.
I really do love this time of year, and I want all of our fellows to carry the same level of excitement they have for college in this moment with them to their first day of college—with the confidence and the tools to make college graduation an even closer reality.