Technology Companies Team Up To Eliminate ‘Summer Melt’ - Higher Education


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Technology Companies Team Up To Eliminate ‘Summer Melt’

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by Tiffany Pennamon

Two innovative technology-based education companies are tackling what education researchers coin “summer melt,” a phenomenon of college-intending students failing to enroll at any institution the fall following their high school graduation.

Signal Vine, a text messaging platform, and Study.com have created and shared innovative ways to help vulnerable students potentially at risk of “summer melt” overcome various barriers to college in order to successfully start their matriculation.

Both companies cite research from Dr. Benjamin Castleman and Dr. Lindsay Page at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University as the basis for their efforts to help students navigate the sometimes stressful process of completing the tasks required to enroll at their chosen institution.

These tasks can include applying for financial aid, registering for and attending orientation, taking placement tests, responding to university correspondences and completing forms for housing. The platforms cater to millennials’ increasing use of technology and social media and also fill a perceived gap in a lack of communication between college-intending students and universities.

Signal Vine’s text-based method for addressing “summer melt” stems from the researchers’ findings that quality communication strategies of engagement, such as text messaging students, can have effective and motivational benefits for vulnerable students. Similarly, Study.com engages with students by offering online courses for college credit, providing scholarships to lower the cost of attendance and providing resources to help inform students’ decisions for their education.

Brian Kathman, CEO of Signal Vine, said that the core challenge Signal Vine is trying to change is the belief that communication is not as effective as it used to be for students.

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“We’ve talked with funders about funding ‘summer melt’ and they’ve said, ‘well we have money for K-12 and we have money for post-secondary, but we don’t have money to fund programs in that in-between stage,’” said Kathman in an interview with Diverse. “That winds up creating a whole other dilemma of who’s responsible for communicating to the students, who’s responsible for making sure the student is able to get over the hurdles and through the obstacles that are going to get in their way to be able to show up on campus in the fall.”

This dilemma often leaves college-intending students overlooked, he said. Castleman and Lindsay’s report estimates that between 10 to 40 percent of college-intending students fail to enroll in college following their high school graduation.

“That number is incredibly alarming and disproportionately affects low-income and minority students,” said Adrian Ridner, CEO and co-founder of Study.com. “Education is an equalizer in today’s society and a bachelor’s degree remains the key to upward mobility, so we wanted to do what we can to address this issue.”

Research shows that students who are most likely to experience “melt” are usually those who “no longer have access to high school counselors, who may not be familiar with support resources available at their intended college, and whose families may lack experience with the college-going process,” according to the report.

Add to this the fact that many college-intending students have summer jobs and internships, and may not respond as promptly to important college information sent by their intended school.

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Ridner said that one of the biggest barriers to college for students is the “skyrocketing tuition,” including living expenses, books and supplies. Consequently, the company debuted their College Accelerator program to “help college and college-bound students earn college credit affordably and conveniently,” offering 90 different courses that are transferrable to over 2,000 institutions.

The site helps roughly 25 million students each month during their academic journey and also offers scholarships for specific fields of study like business and computer science, the co-founder said.

Another barrier Study.com hopes to eliminate is the lack of confidence some students have when facing the immediacy of attending college. Using the site’s online resources, students can get a preview of college courses and “practice self-directed learning, which is a key difference between the high school and college experience, and an important skill to build,” Ridner said.

Students can prepare for college by watching 5-minute video lessons on Study.com, which are also available on laptops and mobile devices, Ridner said.

Ridner and Kathman said that there has to be a joint effort between the student and the institution to successfully get the student to campus in the fall.

Started in 2013, Signal Vine partners with college and university departments including admissions, academic advising or financial aid to start outreach with students before they even arrive on campus. As the technology provider for 20 different state institutions, the company works with institutions to disseminate relevant and personalized information to students using a texting-based platform.

Ridner says that receiving motivational and personalized resources, along with necessary financial aid, can be the difference in whether or not a student officially enrolls at their chosen institution and thrives in society.

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Engagement is the key part of both Study.com and Signal Vine’s strategies to eliminate “summer melt.” The technology platforms have become what Kathman says is a “cornerstone” in the research being done to help students make it through the college process.

“I was pretty frustrated at the lack of efficient study tools and the rising cost of college,” said Ridner, who added that this new partnership is designed to “make education more affordable, effective and engaging.”

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at tpennamon@diverseeducation.com

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