ADDRESSING SUMMER MELT: THE EFFECTIVENESS OF A SUMMER BRIDGE PROGRAM IN IMPROVING COLLEGE ATTENDANCE RATES FOR AT-RISK HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES
Cobb, Jennifer Pettersson
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In July 2013, National Public Radio (NPR) showcased a research study on why economically disadvantaged students "melted" during the summer between their high school graduation and fall enrollment in an institute of higher education (IHE). Summer melt has been defined as graduated high school students who intend and apply to go to college in the fall after graduation but end up not enrolling. The study found that up to 40% of economically disadvantaged students who planned to attend a community college never enrolled. The phenomenon of summer melt is not a new one, but with more economically disadvantaged students enrolling in higher education, it has become more apparent. The concern of summer melt is multifaceted. High schools are now holding themselves more responsible for how successfully they launch their graduates. IHEs are concerned that students who commit to their institutions become no-shows, which creates a ripple effect that on waiting lists and financial aid. Summer melt appears to be a relatively new area of study in educational research. The attempts to address the phenomenon come from K–12 school districts, IHEs, college-access organizations and other nonprofit organizations. One method of addressing summer melt is summer bridge programs. Summer bridge programs are created to help improve college readiness and ease the transition into college. In the past, they were mainly created by IHEs with the intention of assisting students who had probationary acceptance. With attention appearing to shift now to college completion, the connection of summer melt to summer bridge programs as a possible intervention is timely and useful, especially for economically disadvantaged students. This research study examined the impact of a summer bridge program in reducing the summer melt rate for two Title I high schools in Houston, Texas. The definition of summer melt for the purpose of this study has been broadened to include students who intend, at the time of high school graduation, to enroll in an IHE in the fall. The reason for the expansion of this definition is that most students this intervention addresses historically do not enroll in the local community college until the summer after graduation. Based on previous research conducted in this specific district, approximately 50% of students from these two high schools who intend to enroll in the local community college do not attend in the fall. The majority of students attending these high schools are economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, and first-generation college students. These variables will be discussed as possible factors influencing the high summer melt rates. A summer bridge program was created by the independent school district in partnership with the local community college in order to address summer melt. The impact of this program in addressing summer melt was assessed by the fall enrollment rate of students in the local community college. Summer bridge students were compared to students from the same high schools who did not attend the summer bridge program. All students included in the analysis had stated in a senior graduation survey that they planned to attend the local community college. Results indicated that the summer bridge program positively impacted students who are Hispanic and economically disadvantaged and this impact is statistically significant. The intentionality of services and planning required for a bridge program to be successful was apparent throughout the planning and execution of the program. The detailed description of the program as it relates to these components and set up of the program provides a valuable framework for other institutions to establish a similar bridge program.