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ISSUE

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.

When they graduate high school, students generally 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.

SOLUTION

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.

In 2015, we commissioned Dr. Castleman to study what it took for three Wisconsin public school districts to design, launch and administer summer texting programs. His evaluation of the implementation process at the School District of Janesville, Madison Metropolitan School District and Stevens Point Area Public School District informed our 2015-2016 "Lessons Learned" Report.

We are eager to share evidence-based practices with other high schools interested in trying this approach. That’s why we’re offering competitive grants to Wisconsin school districts serving a significant population of economically disadvantaged students. We invited 74 school districts to apply for startup funding to support use of text messaging software, summer staff time and data tracking through the National Student Clearinghouse. We’ll also provide coaching and peer networking opportunities.

We understand that setting up a new program has a higher cost initially, but once the program is running, it requires fewer resources to maintain. Our startup grants will get districts over that hurdle. With evidence that summer melt texting can move the needle on schools’ on-time college enrollment rates, we hope that districts will continue the texting program after our grant period ends.

That’s what happened at Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal reports that MMSD is paying to continue summer melt texting even without a Great Lakes grant.

“I absolutely believe we’re sold on it,” said Jen Wegner, MMSD director for personalized pathways and career/technical education. “We’re seeing statistically significant increases with regard to our student population, and most specifically with our African-American and Hispanic populations.

QUESTIONS

Contact Carolynn Lee, Program Manager, at clee2@glhec.org or (608) 504-6599.