10 Strategies for Stopping Your College’s Summer Melt

Strategy May 01, 2019

“Summer melt” is a thing. And no, we’re not talking about popsicles.

It describes the “melting away” of motivation that affects up to 40% of college-intending students between high school graduation and the beginning of their first college semester. Don’t believe us? Just search the web!

What makes this phenomenon even more perplexing is that when Interact surveyed students of 9 Southern California community colleges in 2017 who applied but did not enroll, we found that 43% had actually completed their assessment testing.

That’s right! A full 22,000 students decided not to go to college after doing the “hard part.” Crazy, right?

If you’re still unconvinced, in August, 2017, Interact conducted a needs analysis of Los Angeles Community College District’s (LACCD) marketing and communications strategies and found the same thing—that nearly half of LACCD applicants failed to enroll after being accepted! Not surprisingly, the lower a student’s income, the more likely they were to “opt-out.”

What Causes College Students to “Melt” Away?

While individual reasons for not enrolling vary widely, our broader research into “summer melt” reveals certain trends. Based on self-reported reasons from thousands of community college students across the country, failure to enroll tends to revolve around a couple key issues:

  • Lack of information and a failure to have their questions answered
  • Lack of “friendly guidance” to help them navigate confusing enrollment processes

In addition to a general “failure to communicate,” our research also revealed common systemic failures that generally revolved around dealing with “special” circumstances. For example, prospects who do not speak English well enough to navigate the enrollment process or who have limited computer access tend to fall through the cracks because colleges haven’t established a protocol for addressing their needs.

These findings suggest something that we at Interact have long known: Personalized, professional, and timely communications play a key role in converting students from applied to enrolled.

To address these issues at LACCD, Interact conducted a broad “Failure-to-Appear” campaign which included PIO training, a qualitative “Media Preferences” survey, marketing collateral development, video creation, landing page development, and a multi-platform campaign that included email, text messaging, and various social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.

The results of LACCD’s campaign, which ran from July 18 to Aug 27, were significant. Some highlights include an email open rate of about 28% (ore than twice industry averages) and 32,137 click-throughs; 1,964,351 social media impressions and 25,134 website clicks; over 277,231 completed video views on YouTube at an average cost of only $.07 per view; and 74,121 “post-campaign enrollments.”

10 Simple Ways to Put Summer Melt on Ice

If your college isn’t ready for something this extensive, here are some simple strategies to think about:

  1. Audit your pre-enrollment messaging arc by crafting collateral to address key sticking points in the enrollment process and by deploying it when students are most likely to need it.
  2. Analyze your enrollment pipeline to understand the steps and obstacles students must overcome on the way to enrollment.
  3. Create frequent touch points and communications through social media, digital outreach, email, text and print to encourage students to stay engaged and focused on attending college.
  4. Use personalized emails and texts instead of relying on the organic reach of social media.
  5. Integrate re-marketing strategies to capture “warm” leads.
  6. Target gatekeepers, like parents and high school counselors, with messaging that empowers them to help their kids stay on track.
  7. Work collaboratively with counseling, admissions, and outreach to create materials that will be helpful, relevant, and engaging to high school students.
  8. Work collaboratively with admissions and enrollment staff to make sure there are plans in place to deal with special circumstances such as those who need computer assistance, those who don’t speak English, etc.
  9. Measure the success of your communications by establishing enrollment benchmarks and tracking things like open and click-through rates.
  10. Review your outcomes and adjust your strategy based on successes and failures.

The permutations for how you craft your messaging strategies are infinite, but hopefully these ideas give you a place to start.

If auditing your messaging arcs or reviewing your enrollment pipeline seems like an awful pain in the ca-rear, not to worry! These are some of the many services Interact has been providing to community colleges across the country for over 20 years.

If there’s something you need, just let us know. Interact is here to help.