Identification, Communication Key to Minimizing Summer Melt 

Jun 27, 2022
Written by: Jennifer Spira

It’s that time of year: deposits are in, but fall census is a long way off. As is annual tradition at institutions of all sizes, the dread of inevitable summer melt is upon us.

These questions are vital: Do we know who is at risk, and what can we do to realize our freshman enrollment? 

The Most Vulnerable

With ever-increasing diversity among incoming classes – not just across ethnicities, but also in socioeconomics and family composition – the melt strategies employed by schools just five or 10 years ago are likely no longer sufficient. 

Summer melt is such a challenge, in fact, that the Center of Education Policy Research at Harvard University published a Summer Melt Handbook, and nonprofits such as the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) devote vast resources to combatting it. 

According to NCAN’s research, the students most susceptible to summer melt are overwhelmingly:

  • BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color)
  • low-income
  • first-generation college students
  • lower academic achievers
  • from atypical families

For many in these groups, the roadblock is financial: There’s a gap between the college’s sticker price and their aid package, and they’re unsure how to bridge it. Oftentimes, just deciphering the exact amount owed in tuition and fees can cause derailment (this is taxing for those from degree-holding families, as well). 

Add to that a lack of professional support during the crucial post-deposit months. Students who relied on guidance counselors during the school year can find themselves alone post-graduation, navigating the complex forms and processes of FAFSA without a guide. Lack of reliable home internet only exacerbates the issue.

Then there are students – across all demographics – overcome by worries of academic demands and social challenges. Will I fit in? Will I find “my people”? Can I do the work? 

Yet others pay their deposit only to learn that their coveted first choice converted them from wait list to admitted. Their joy becomes your sorrow.

The definitive goal: Get to know your students’ needs…now. 

Is Covid Still a Factor? 

It’s clear that the pandemic had an unprecedented, profound effect on summer melt. 

In spring 2020, a survey conducted by the Art & Science Group LLC showed that as many as 1 in 6 seniors who had planned for four-year college prior to Covid changed their plans. The result? More than 70 percent of those opted for a gap year or part-time schooling, while the remainder joined the workforce or enrolled at community college. (Of note: The vast majority of gap year students still have not enrolled, two years later.)

Of the 5 in 6 who stayed on course, many deposited at more than one college and awaited administrative decisions on mask mandates and in-person vs. virtual learning. Those verdicts heavily influenced where students ultimately landed in the fall.

We expect Covid’s influence to persist, as there is still no consistency across the country on vaccination and booster requirements, mask policies, and in-person learning. While private institutions continue to self-govern on these matters, the publics are beholden to state guidelines. 

Further complications include faculty hesitancy: Some administrations report a struggle to get more than 65% to teach in person because they prefer remote work. 

It’s clear that Covid uncertainty will linger into the foreseeable future. 

Adopting Melt Strategies

Now that we’ve identified summer melt risk factors, what’s the best way to lessen them? How do we abate the average melt of 10 to 20 percent? 

The strongest strategies are two-fold. 

The Analytics Advantage 

First, if your institution is already using Liaison’s predictive and prescriptive analytics, you’re a step ahead. Our data-driven analytics can identify students at the highest risk of melting, and recommend actions that will increase those students’ likelihood to enroll. 

Despite COVID-19 remaining a threat to the 2021 enrollment cycle, Liaison partner institutions fared significantly better overall: 

  • enrollment increased 7.02% (non-partners saw a 2.6% decrease)
  • public school deposits increased almost 10% in May 2021
  • private school deposits increased more than 15% in April, and an almost 24% increase in May 2021

Communication is Key

Second, multiple studies have proved that consistent summer communication is overwhelming effective in minimizing melt. And, not surprisingly, the type of communication matters. 

Both Harvard and NCAN recommend digital messaging as one of the most cost-effective ways to connect with students. Text campaigns are favored over email, so consider making all of your forms mobile-friendly. 

Monitor student behavior and watch for red flags: 

  • Has the student attended orientation? 
  • Did they register for classes? 
  • Did they complete the housing contract and set up a payment plan? 

These actions – or lack thereof – are all reliable predictors of a student’s likelihood to show up in the fall. Take note and take charge. 

Creating a campaign of consistent digital messaging will provide crucial guidance for students on the essentials – housing deposits, orientation dates, tuition payments, and course registration – but also give them a feeling of being wanted and belonging, long before they arrive on campus. 

Students who feel connected to their college are not only more likely to enroll – they stay enrolled, as well. 

BIPOC Outreach

Pay special attention to those most vulnerable to melt; their success is ultimately tied to yours. 

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) projects that as soon as 2025, white students will be the minority of high school graduates; Hispanic, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and multiracial will account for 54 percent of all U.S. public high school graduates. By 2036, WICHE predicts a continued increase, to 57 percent. 

Minimizing melt in those populations is key: Research shows that BIPOC students are more likely to earn a four-year degree when there are more students on campus who look like them. 

To learn more about positioning your institution for success, sign up now for Liaison’s “Redefining your Transfer Enrollment Strategy With Advanced Analytics webinar on Wednesday, June 29, from 3:00-4:00 pm.  


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Over the last three decades, Liaison has helped over 40,000 programs on more than 1,200 campuses more effectively manage admissions through its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) technology and complementary application processing and support services. The higher education technology leader supports its partner institutions’ total enrollment goals by pairing CAS with its Enrollment Marketing (EM) platform as well as the recently acquired TargetX (CRM) and advanced analytics software Othot.