Summer Melt: Why Aren't Students Showing Up For College?

Rates of
Rates of "summer melt" are highest for students from lower-income backgrounds, especially if their own parents didn't go through the college application process.
Hill Street Studios/Getty Images/Blend Images

Every year, many students who have overcome daunting obstacles in high school receive good news — they've been accepted to college.

These kids represent a success story: through hard work and determination, they've made it into college, and perhaps even on to a better life.

Except it doesn't always work out that way.

"The rate with which kids who are college-intending do not actually get to college in the fall is surprisingly high," says Lindsay Page, an education researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. "In one sample that we looked at in the Boston area, we find that upwards of 20% of kids who at the time of high school graduation say that they're continuing on to college — about 20% of those kids don't actually show up in the fall."

Researchers call this phenomenon "summer melt" — and for universities, it has long been a puzzling problem. Because these are the kids who made it: they've taken the SATs, been accepted to a college of their choice, applied for and received financial aid. Why wouldn't they show up for college on day one?

This week on Hidden Brain, we explore this problem, and how one university is working to fix it.

The Hidden Brain Podcast is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, Thomas Lu, Laura Kwerel and Adhiti Bandlamudi. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

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