A Summer Journey, A Summer Melt

 Image source: LaGuardia Community College.

Image source: LaGuardia Community College.

Jonathan is a young guy living in New York City and he has decided to start college in the Fall. He’s heard from two colleges that have accepted him and he’s chosen the one he wants to attend. Although he is enthusiastic about it, he is anxious too about the many things this college is asking him to complete before starting his first semester—high school grades, immunizations, financial aid application, regents scores, placement test notifications and the list goes on and on. At one point, he feels overwhelmed and simply lost about where to start or where to go for help. Jonathan’s parents are supportive of his plans but since they didn’t go to college, it’s hard to put themselves in his shoes. Meanwhile, Jonathan knows he needs to work at least part-time so that he can help with the bills at home. The fall semester is around the corner and Jonathan hasn’t yet submitted everything. At one point, he simply gives up and does not follow through. A full time job opportunity comes his way and he decides to take it and not enroll in college. “I’ll go to college at one point” he says to his parents. His plans have now changed.

There are many students out there who decide to embark in the college experience aiming to get a good education and higher chances of a better and well-paid career. Jonathan is only one example of what these students experience right before the first semester and his experience represents a number of specific challenges that these students have before entering the classroom. When these challenges occur all at once, it is even more difficult to navigate the admissions process. Imagine if a student is at loss in this process but has supportive parents who have gone through college; in this case, the student will benefit from specific support the parents can provide and this in turn can alleviate the process. But what if the student is the first one in the family attending college, has recently come from a different country, has a native language other than English, and has employment as a top priority to make ends meet? The picture gets grayer each time, right? The amount of paperwork, and sometimes the bureaucracy established by institutions, can complicate things to students and can have detrimental consequences in some cases, too.

It turns out that Jonathan’s experience is not uncommon; but instead, one that is particularly detrimental to disadvantaged students looking to get a college degree. The Summer Melt, as the research has indicated, affects around 20 percent of low-income students who even though they were set to attend a four-year college, do not actually enroll anywhere (Supiano, 2018). Given how much the Summer Melt can affect those with prospective college plans, institutions have worked to address this and have launched various initiatives that attempt to alleviate and ease the admissions process to these students. The goal is to ease their transition to college by enabling systems of communication that allow students to follow through accordingly, complete everything they need to, start college, and make it to graduation. Institutions like Georgia State University, for example, have created a chatbot system that directs students with specific issues to the right person or office. In her article titled You Can Help Make Sure Freshmen Show Up, Here's How, Supiano (2018) explains that these systems can help students in tremendous ways and can get them the answers they need at the right time. Similarly, other institutions have created ‘nudge’ systems that are designed to alert students at the right time about specific items. Either the chatbot or a ‘nudge’ system would help students like Jonathan get the right help at the right time.

While my interest relies broadly on how the Summer Melt affects students and how institutions are addressing this, I want to focus my research on how Community Colleges in particular are developing structures of support to address this among low-income or disadvantaged student populations. I want to explore what implementations Community Colleges can put into place that will enable students to transition from admissions and through the first semester in college. My experience in CUNY has exposed me to initiatives involving ‘nudging’ students and helping them both enter college and make it through the first semester and all the way through graduation. Last year at LaGuardia in the Fall semester, a cross-divisional effort I was part of convened to explore the reasons why LaGuardia students who entered the college for the first time in the Fall semester left after their first semester. Established as the Fall Melt group, the committee produced a report at the end of the term outlining reasons why these students decide to leave and possible strategies to implement moving forward. The Summer Melt though must be a focal point and I hope my research will shed light on strengths and areas for improvement as well as recommendations to implement moving forward considering the needs of these particular student populations. In their book titled Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College, Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page (2014) speak about the complexity of this issue and how it can be addressed.

Although the name Jonathan is a pseudonym, he is a real student I met many semesters ago. And I relate to him in many ways. Although I did follow through when I first applied to LaGuardia Community College, I struggled to navigate the system and complete the long list of requirements I was asked to fulfill. Having completed high school in Peru, it was especially tedious to follow through and make sure all my grades and scores were converted to the American system. Similarly, although my dad did go to college but my mom didn’t, neither one was familiar with the college system in the United States. Despite the challenges I went through, I made it to graduation. But many don’t and I want to find out why and how we can best support them.

References

Supiano, B. (2018, February). You Can Help Make Sure Freshmen Show Up. Here’s How. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/You-Can-Help-Make-Sure/242567

Castleman, B., & Page, L. (2014). Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.