Approximately 60% of Central Texas jobs require some postsecondary education, but completing the steps necessary to enroll in college can be particularly difficult for first-generation and low-income college students whose parents have no college background.
Historically, about 90 percent of the 13,000 Central Texas high school graduates indicate they plan to pursue postsecondary enrollment, but only 63 percent actually do. Nationally, researchers have found that between 10-40 percent of college-intending students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, encounter enrollment barriers during the summer and fail to enroll in college the fall after high school graduation. Researchers have dubbed this phenomenon as “summer melt.”
To counter postsecondary enrollment barriers, the Austin Chamber of Commerce began an initiative in 2013 to decrease the impact of summer melt—the trend keeping recent high school graduates who have been admitted to college from enrolling due to unforeseen barriers encountered over the summer. These obstacles include verification of financial aid information, meeting orientation requirements, unknown registration or housing deadlines, and other enrollment barriers.
Over the last six years, the Chamber has annually collaborated with Austin, Round Rock, Hutto, Leander, and Pflugerville school districts to extend counselor support over the summer and utilize the Chamber funded OneLogos College Ready portal to target enrollment assistance to students via text message on key registration, orientation, financial aid, housing deadlines, and college readiness. In addition, districts deploy a variety of strategies to help students complete college enrollment, including, holding office hours, hosting financial aid workshops, creating college-going checklists for students, and reaching out to students about what questions they need answered.
As part of the effort, automated texts are sent to recent graduates to find out if they need assistance. For example, “[STUDENT NAME]-Living on campus this fall? Housing deadlines are coming. If u don’t have money for a deposit, u may qualify for a waiver. Need help?” Counselors are able to follow up with students in real-time and meet them where they are in the enrollment process.
Support system & reassurance
Sarah Simmons, a counselor for the Austin Independent School District (ISD), worked with four McKinney-Vento students, meaning they struggle with housing insecurity. After completing their applications and financial aid paperwork, they felt anxious about dealing with the rest of the process alone during the summer. To ensure they enrolled, she met with each of them to finish paperwork and register for classes. She says it is important students know, “[J]ust because you graduated doesn’t mean that you can’t still get support”.
Simmons notes that even students that have completed everything in preparation for college still appreciate a counselor verifying their materials. Counselors provide reassurance many students are looking for.
Ingrid Johnson, a counselor for Round Rock ISD had a student concerned that a surgery she needed this summer would stop her from attending college orientation. Johnson met with her multiple times, called the college to explain the situation, and got the student’s orientation rescheduled. This student has since recovered and she completed orientation in July, she was a first-generation college student. Johnson says, “I felt honored to be able to help her, she’s worked very hard during her high school career.”
Summer Melt counselors have improved their strategies for contacting students. While standardized text messages are sent to all students, Nancy Nitardy from Austin ISD sends out additional texts to students if the high school is unaware of their post-graduation plans.
Other counselors make sure students can match a face to the text messages. In past years, Bobbi Sanchez of Round Rock ISD received some “who is this” responses to the texts. This year, she visited the English classes for every senior at the high school, introduced herself, and explained what Summer Melt was, “that helped tremendously” she says.
From helping students register for classes to making sure all their financial aid papers are completed, counselors are proving to be a valuable resource for high school graduates.
The data speaks for itself, prior evaluations conducted by The University of Texas Ray Marshall Center, Johns Hopkins and Harvard University demonstrated direct college enrollment rates for key student populations, including low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students, increased for 4 to 10 percentage points or more.
This initiative is changing the lives of students that need extra support. A Round Rock ISD counselor says, "Every year I have success stories... every year students and parents are just delighted and so grateful.”
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