As many as 40% of college-bound high school graduates from underserved communities leave high school with college acceptance letters in hand, yet fail to show up for classes in the fall.

The reason: Students must complete a series of crucial tasks over the summer to finalize their financial aid, register for orientation, confirm campus housing and so on. It can be a withering gauntlet for any student, but especially for students who are first in their families to go to college, students of color and those from low-income backgrounds.

When they leave high school, students and their families tend to leave behind the support of the counselors who helped them gain admission and apply for financial aid. They're on their own, often for the first time, just as they reach the final hurdles on the way into college.


A bit of well-timed outreach to prospective college freshmen the summer after high school makes a difference.

Sending a handful of short texts about steps students need to take, with links to encourage immediate action whenever possible and invitations to text back for more help, substantially increases the share who successfully enroll come fall. This is the conclusion of multiple studies by Dr. Ben Castleman at the University of Virginia and Dr. Lindsay Page at the University of Pittsburgh.

To learn what it takes to implement summer melt texting programs, we committed $99,000 to three Wisconsin school districts to launch their own programs in 2015 and commissioned Dr. Castleman to summarize the lessons learned. We chose the School District of Janesville, Madison Metropolitan School District and Stevens Point Area Public School District to represent a broad mix of students across urban and rural areas. Each district used text messaging software and took advantage of funding for counselors and staff to work over the summer to determine how to collect student cell phone numbers, tailor personalized messages and run the program.

The text message campaigns were successful in decreasing summer melt—in the three districts, enrollment in two-year colleges increased by 3 to 9 percentage points. Equally important, we learned a lot about what goes into developing, launching and administering a texting program. Those lessons are outlined in our 2015-2016 report, which we hope will benefit other schools interested in testing this approach. We believe there's still more to learn, so we extended the grant to all three districts for 2016 and to Stevens Point Area Public School District and Madison Metropolitan School District for 2017.


Contact Nikki Wachter, Program Manager Supervisor, at or (800) 345-5815.

October 19, 2017

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