Using technology to reduce 'summer melt'
- Each year, at just about every college, some fraction of the freshman class that has paid enrollment deposits never shows up on campus. Called “summer melt,” the phaseout is often due to the many administrative tasks new students are supposed to fulfill but don’t, says the Chronicle of Higher Education. Research shows these applicants may be disproportionately low-income and first-generation.
- School officials recognize they need to reach out to keep students in the loop. Georgia State does this especially well, using “Pounce,” a chatbot that sends incoming students text-message reminders and responds to student questions, the article says. The bot nudges students along on tasks they need to complete, and is sophisticated enough to send messages only to students who have not completed a certain requirement, so students don’t become overloaded and begin to ignore messages.
- Early results seem promising. Summer melt at Georgia State was about 20% lower for students who had Pounce when it was first rolled out in 2016, compared with those in a control group. Based on that evidence, the university decided to make Pounce available to all incoming students starting last summer.
Summer melt can pose challenges for colleges, which depend on a certain amount of revenue from tuition to meet bottom lines. If too many applicants fail to show up, it could lead to cuts or other adjustments. Until not too long ago, institutions accepted the expected attrition as normal. High school leaders assumed students with solid college plans followed through, and college administrators assumed students had chosen another higher ed institution when they never arrived.
But research began to show that many of these students simply never attended college classes at all, even if they had applied and paid some fees. Now colleges are actively working to nudge students throughout the summer to complete necessary tasks. The contact not only offers practical help, but fosters a bond for students with the school they will be attending.
In a time when schools are fighting for every dollar, it pays to develop sophisticated ways to keep in contact with both prospective and current students in order to help keep them on track and excited about matriculating at the institution. Using technology that’s easy-to-use, responds quickly and meets students' individual needs will go a long way in helping to bring students to campus and keep them there.