Surviving Summer Melt: 3 Strategies to Make “Better Together” Better, Together.

Lyquaia Purcell

Move-in Day 

It looks a bit different this year. But some things remain the same: Excited students, anxious parents and guardians. Overpacked (and improperly parked) vehicles. And if you are one of the lucky ones responsible for getting students to campus, there are lots of emotions. You’ve shed blood, sweat and tears to get these students enrolled. And they made it! Excitement, relief, pride. And then there’s a different feeling that always comes a little later. When you start to see the numbers, and you recognize some of the names of those who didn’t make it to the first day of class. It is a sobering experience, even amid the excitement of meeting and even exceeding enrollment and retention goals.  

This was always hard for me, especially when it came to seeing the names of first-generation and historically excluded students, who were always over-represented in the count of summer melt stats. They needed to be there. 

If you work in enrollment management, you’ll be looking at finalized summer melt stats soon, but the truth is that this has been a lingering topic all year. In fact, summer melt has been top of mind for so many enrollment leaders I’ve connected with over the past few months. There is a general understanding that summer melt reduction and prevention should be a campus-wide initiative. “Better together” seems to be the mantra. Enrollment managers have shared that they have expanded meetings across campus to drive cross-functional alignment with other teams, like admissions, financial aid, student affairs and D&I.  

Some institutions have taskforces dedicated to summer melt and retention that meet year-round. But, if you’ve been in higher ed for any significant amount of time, you probably know that more meetings aren’t ever really the answer. And the conversations I’ve been having have shown that even by adding more meetings to the calendar, VPEs are still not confident on how to move the needle on summer melt.  

Simply put, there are complex, core issues that meetings alone can’t solve.  

For starters, data is often pulled from various sources and out of different systems overseen by each department that manages its own engagements. The time and effort to manage all of that is overwhelming, even if everyone is in it together. And now, there’s the added layer of a seemingly endless pandemic, which makes time even more scarce and threatens already limited resources.  

The impact that the pandemic has already had on the daunting phenomenon of summer melt has forced teams to work more closely together than ever before. Here’s what I’m seeing: 

  • There are no more hard-coded deadlines. Teams across campus are working together to decide what works best as pandemic numbers and variants change daily. Even deposit deadlines are moving targets these days, which impacts summer melt because departments have less time to ensure that committed students have the information they need to complete tasks. As deadlines change, teams are working together to ensure every communication across departments is audited to reflect such changes. 
  • Financial aid is an even bigger concern. Now more than ever, families are dealing with the economic repercussions of the pandemic. 1 in 6 students decides not to pursue higher education currently because of the lack of access and guidance to financial aid information resources.
  • Students are in limbo. Some students are considering staying closer to home or choosing a community college. Others are wait-listed due to an increase in applications at highly selective schools. In fact, almost one-third of first-time students in a recent survey shared that they had been waitlisted at their top choice institution for 2021-22. And some families have even deposited at a few top choices due to travel restrictions.  

These additional layers add yet more complexities to managing summer melt across campus.  

So how do we make our “better together” mantra... better?  

While we have a more inclusive approach to managing summer melt compared to previous school years, our approach is still time-consuming, often inaccurate, hard to understand and doesn't always feel connected. These are all things that lead to students falling out of the funnel. As you level up across campus, teams must seek out efficiencies, cohesion and precision to reduce melt and help students feel confident about making the decision to attend your institution. 

As you sit around the table and evaluate what happened this year, here are some “better together” summer melt prevention strategies you can deploy next year:  

Build out a more cohesive communication strategy, together.  

Most of your meeting time is likely already devoted toward building out a consistent, comprehensive message for students and families. However, institutions traditionally have multiple student communicators using different email, social and web technologies, which often lead to redundancy and inconsistencies.  

Focus less on making sure every team is saying the exact same thing. When designing messages across campus, map out the student journey with the goal that every engagement that a student receives over the summer should build off the engagement before it. This allows for segmentation and ensures that students and families view your institution as a single voice.   

Implement new efficiencies, together.  

Time should not be the only resource shared between the Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Success and Diversity & Inclusion offices. Other resources must also be shared to invest in efficiency. This includes a thoughtful approach to technology and setting aside budgets to be shared. We all know that there’s a cost to summer melt, and as student demographics continue to change, keeping students moving all the way through your funnel matters. Figure out a way to use technology to have a consistent voice throughout the student’s summer journey. Utilizing technology will not only save you time, ensure the accuracy of information, but it will also save your institution money. In fact, a recent study found that spending 3% more on tech saves 29% in overall costs.

Get it right, together.  

One of the biggest reasons students fall out of your funnel during Summer is the lack of guidance and support they receive. Meet students where they are and deliver precise engagements with personalized messaging. When possible, enable a self-guided journey for students, which will free up time across-campus to focus on other important elements, like pandemic planning. Some of our college partners have embedded dynamic explainer videos into their student engagements to ensure that students feel supported and have what they need to continue moving through the funnel.  

Once you get melt under control, your team will be able to fully focus on the things that matter during Summer, into the Fall and beyond.  

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