College admissions and financial aid offices across the country have spent 12-18 months cultivating relationships with prospective students, securing applications, packaging attractive financial aid offers, and offering enrollment. But as the summer months progress, something happens: Students begin to disappear. The phenomenon known as summer melt—when students who’ve agreed to enroll in a college “melt” away—can cause institutions to lose between 10-20% of their enrollments. As we head into May, many institutions are asking themselves once again: What can we do to prevent summer melt?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a single reason why summer melt occurs, but many students have admitted that it’s the enrollment process itself dissuading them from attending college. They struggle to understand the implications of their financial aid packages, they miss key deadlines, or they simply get overwhelmed by the complexity of the process. With this in mind, here are three ways institutions can better help students through the enrollment process in order to minimize melt.
1. Create a Liaison Program
There are a few things we do know about summer melt: it tends to impact first-generation college students the most and groups like international students the least. One of the main differences between these two groups is the type of support they get between high school graduation and college enrollment.
Many international students work closely with liaisons throughout their enrollment journey, building connections with colleges before they set foot on campus. Alternatively, many first-generation students lose the support they had from school guidance counselors and often must navigate the challenging enrollment process on their own.
International students, recruited athletes, and Posse Scholars are just a few student groups that have campus liaisons and campus mentors from the beginning of their enrollment journey to the end, and these groups are far less likely than others to melt away. If institutions want to minimize summer melt, they might consider putting a liaison program in place for all incoming students. This gives students access to support systems that can help them navigate their enrollment journey while strengthening their ties to the institution.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
There are many things that students need to do between the time they commit to a school and the time they walk into their first class. There are financial aid offers, forms, and appeals to navigate; emails that need to be set up; medical form submissions; final transcript transfers; orientation sign ups; room and class registrations; meal plan selections; bill payments; and more.
These forms and processes are necessary, and institutions looking to simplify the enrollment process can’t merely reduce the number of required steps. However, colleges and universities can be more strategic about the way they communicate submission deadlines to students. Creating a multi-channel communication strategy (email, text, etc.) around key deadlines can help students better understand the information they need to submit and where/how they can do so.
Many modern student information systems include advanced communications suites that can help admissions office staff stay in consistent contact with prospective students. Texting and emailing with a clear timeline, and then structuring reminder communications to align with those dates can give students a clearer understanding of what processes need to be completed by when.
3. Simplify the Form Fill Process
It’s not only the sheer number of forms that can cause students to decide against enrolling in college, it can also be the complexity of the forms. Even the Department of Education, in their efforts to create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive educational opportunities, is taking steps to simplify the FAFSA. Colleges and universities should consider taking similar action.
To simplify the form fill process, institutions should enable mobile-friendly, online forms that make it easy for students to submit information, upload files, and sign documents electronically. When sending email and text reminders about due dates, admissions offices can link directly to forms, ensuring students can easily locate, fill out, and submit the information required.
When students commit to attending a college, their relationship with that institution is still tenuous and the administrative obstacles impeding their enrollment are numerous. The more institutions can do to strengthen relationships and communication early, the simpler the enrollment process will be, and the less likely students are to melt away.
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