Did you know that approximately 60% of jobs available in the Austin MSA require some level of postsecondary education? Typically, about 90% of all 13,000 Central Texas high school graduates indicate they plan to seek some form of postsecondary enrollment, but only about 63% actually enroll in college.

Nationally, research shows that between 10-40% of students planning to attend college encounter enrollment barriers that impact low-income or first-generation student enrollments. This process has been defined as “summer melt.”

To help decrease these barriers, the Chamber works diligently with the Austin, Round Rock, Hutto, and Pflugerville school districts and universities to decrease summer melt. With obstacles ranging from verification of financial aid information, meeting orientation requirements, unknown registration, housing deadlines, and other enrollment barriers, the Austin Chamber made adjustments to strengthen summer melt for the Class of 2020-2021.

Due to the pandemic, counselor trainings shifted online and targeted text messages were sent through the OneLogos College Ready portal to help digitalize and target counselor support. The portal aggregates real-time data for counselors to send targeted nudges via text reminding students of important dates. In addition, districts deploy a variety of strategies to help students complete college enrollment, including, holding office virtual hours, hosting financial aid workshops, creating college-going checklists for students, and reaching out to students about what questions they need to be answered.

The Austin Chamber also partnered with Austin Community College to connect students, not seeking two or four-year degrees, with career certification programs. These programs, which range in length from as short as a few weeks to as long as a whole year, offer students the opportunity to become certified to work in an array of jobs from IT, health care, manufacturing, and skilled trades.

Navigating COVID-19

Due to the pandemic, counselors have had a harder time reaching students without face-to-face interaction. Meanwhile, most students do not know counselors exist as a resource. The Summer Melt Program provides a way to establish connections to students via counselor outreach over the summer. Jeff Pugh, a counselor from Westwood High School stated, “The great part of the Summer Melt Program is that there is a contact for students.”

Connecting to the individual

Vick Pugh, a counselor at Weiss High School in Pflugerville ISD worked with a student who started her college application late and had difficulty navigating the process.

“My student really wanted to go to a historically black college or university, but she hadn’t been exposed to the ones here in Texas or near Texas,” Ms. Pugh said, “She had a really good GPA but had a child her junior year. She thought there was no hope of her going to school because it was so last minute.” Due to the connection, Ms. Pugh was able to call a colleague at Texas Southern University and subsequently awarded the student a $10,000 dollar scholarship.

This connection is an example of how the Summer Melt Program helps students who would otherwise miss out on college enrollment opportunities and help capitalize on their hard work.

The overall impact

Program evaluations conducted by The University of Texas Ray Marshall Center, Johns Hopkins and Harvard University demonstrated direct college enrollment rates for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students who received summer transition support increased up to 10 percentage points.

Additional analysis of the Chamber’s program conducted by The University of Texas Ray Marshall Center showed students who received targeted counselor texts reminding them of key college and financial aid deadlines enroll at a rate 21 percentage points higher than those who do not receive text support. The program is particularly impactful for First-generation and low-income students who receive counselor texts---these students saw a 33 percentage point increase in college enrollment rates in comparison to peers who did not receive outreach.

Thanks the Chamber’s partnership with schools, this program is changing the lives of students and supporting them through the strenuous process of enrolling in post-secondary education or connecting them to a career pathway. The Austin Chamber will continue to innovate methods of outreach and collaboration with local stakeholders to ensure students are better prepared to succeed in Austin’s competitive job market.

Related Categories: COVID-19 resources, For parents & students, Education and Talent