As we all work to increase U.S. college graduation rates, let’s be sure to focus on filling in the transition gaps in the pipeline from middle school to high school to college and on to graduate work. One significant trap is “Summer Melt,” the high rate of seniors who are accepted to college in spring but fail to register and begin courses that fall. As one startling statistic:
In 2013, 90 percent of 15,000 Central Texas high school graduates planned to directly enroll in college, but only 62 percent showed up to the first day of class, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Picture courtesy of Florida College Access Network
Our nation’s college campuses fund financial aid in disparate and extremely inconsistent ways, and frequently student monies are not in place in time for registration day. This is difficult and frustrating for any student and can feel nearly impossible to get around for many first-generation college goers.
Here is a timeline of seven smart solutions to keeping our students on track and funded for Day #1 of college:
- January—track FAFSAs. Build and track a FAFSA submission checklist for all seniors. Ensure that all families are submitted no later than January 31, so they can be early in line for financial aid consideration. Track CSS Profile submissions, as well, for students at schools requiring it!
- March—address FAFSA flags. Proactively contact all of your students and families to confirm their FAFSA’s were not flagged. If any flags have arisen, track that all corrections and documentation are submitted this month.
- May—practice Registration Day. Do a “role play” with your seniors to ensure they know every step and every contact they can expect to encounter on Day #1 of registration, from the Registrar to the Financial Aid Office, Residential Education, etc. – and, of course, Student Services (hat tip to Los Angeles’ Fulfillment Fund for this game-changing exercise!). As preparation for this session, give each student this Registration Day Contact Form to complete with all of the critical names and contact information for their selected campus.
- June—review financial aid offers. Confirm you have a copy of all financial aid offers on file and arrange any phone calls to the financial aid offices for your students.
- July—document disbursement models. Confirm with each campus how financial aid funds are disbursed (e.g., paper checks, debit cards, etc.).
- August—set up deposit accounts. If necessary for their schools, confirm your students have an account into which funds can be deposited.
- August/September—confirm student registration. Personally text or call all of your first-year freshmen and confirm they have been able to register for classes.
Yes, this requires time, planning and persistence, but it’s nothing compared to trying to help a student get caught up in classes – or physically back to campus – after struggling through a failed registration attempt.
As always, share your own recommendations and experiences below!
DMA is the CEO of The CLIC Network, which seeks to increase four-year, debt-free college graduation rates via training, tools & resources for college access and success programs and the students they serve.