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A Trickle or a Torrent? Understanding the Extent of Summer “Melt” Among College-Intending High School Graduates

Authors

  • Benjamin L. Castleman,

    Corresponding author
    1. Harvard Graduate School of Education
    • Direct correspondence to Benjamin L. Castleman (now at the University of Virginia), Curry School of Education, The University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400265, Charlottesville, VA 22904 〈castleman@virginia.edu〉 or Lindsay C. Page, Center for Education Policy Research, Harvard University, 50 Church, Cambridge, MA 02138 〈pageli@gse.harvard.edu〉.

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  • Lindsay C. Page

    Corresponding author
    1. Harvard University
    • Direct correspondence to Benjamin L. Castleman (now at the University of Virginia), Curry School of Education, The University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400265, Charlottesville, VA 22904 〈castleman@virginia.edu〉 or Lindsay C. Page, Center for Education Policy Research, Harvard University, 50 Church, Cambridge, MA 02138 〈pageli@gse.harvard.edu〉.

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  • We will share all coding and all data from uAspire for replication purposes. We are unable to provide restricted-use ELS:2002 data. We gratefully acknowledge uAspire for providing us data on applicants to their Last Dollar Scholarship program and further acknowledge Bob Giannino-Racine, Erin Cox, and Claire Dennison at uAspire for their collaborative partnership in this project. We are grateful to Christopher Avery and Bridget Terry Long for their support and guidance and to Richard Murnane for providing feedback on previous versions of this article. Finally, we acknowledge Karen Arnold, whose research and guidance led us to further examine the prevalence of summer-specific barriers to college access.

Abstract

Objectives

The object of this study was to examine whether college-intending, low-income high school graduates are particularly susceptible to having their postsecondary education plans change, or even fall apart, during the summer after high school graduation. College access research has largely overlooked this time period. Yet, previous research indicates that a sizeable share of low-income students who had paid college deposits reconsidered where, and even whether, to enroll in the months following graduation. We assess the extent to which this phenomenon—commonly referred to as “summer melt”—is broadly generalizable.

Methods

We employ two data sources, a national survey and administrative data from a large metropolitan area, and regression analysis to estimate the prevalence of summer melt.

Results

Our analyses reveal summer melt rates of sizeable magnitude: ranging from 8 to 40 percent.

Conclusions

Our results indicate that low-income, college-intending students experience high rates of summer attrition from the college pipeline. Given the goal of improving the flow of low-income students to and through college, it is imperative to investigate how to effectively intervene and mitigate summer melt.

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