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Summer “Melt” and Low-Income Students

Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Division Socioeconomic and Class Issues in Higher Education
August 4, 2021 Shonda Goward California State University, East Bay

There is a significant amount of research on summer “melt” which is what we call when students who are admitted for the fall but do not eventually enroll.  Georgetown University notes several reports that show that this melt increased during the pandemic particularly for Black and rural students. This phenomenon has alarmed us in higher education as we worry that we will lose these students forever.

However, the focus on enrollment has sometimes overshadowed what happens to continuing students who struggle with basic needs over the summer. Increasingly, we are seeing an increase in students who are experiencing food and housing insecurity. In my own experience I have seen students take courses in the summer simply to receive aid to cover their housing costs. As basic needs centers are gaining popularity on campus it is my hope that we in higher education be a bit more strategic in thinking through what resources a student may need to survive between breaks.  The model that assumes that the majority of students go home for the summer and live with family. According to Temple University’s The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice’s 2019 report prior to the pandemic, of 86,000 students they surveyed, 56% were housing insecure, and 17% had been homeless in the past 30 days.

The California Community Colleges system has recently received $100 million dollars from the state to hire basic needs coordinators on each campus, and strengthen campus programs to give assistance to students who are food insecure and on the verge of being unhoused, and we believe this is a great start. However, these programs are typically only offered when a student is enrolled. In the summer break we have to be proactive in working with community resources as a bridge between semesters.

The pandemic has exacerbated challenges for low-income students and focusing heavily on enrollment to make up for the students who have stopped out misses one of the reasons they are stopped out in the first place. Basic needs come first. We hope that campuses prioritize partnerships between advising and student affairs to reach out to these students before they leave our campuses, without a degree, forever.