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Even with college acceptance in hand, too many low-income Latinos never make it to campus

LatinaLista — Summer break has long been known by educators and parents as a time when students lose some of what they learned during the school year. But who would have blamed summertime on losing the chance to go to college?

Yet, that’s what happens to students, especially low-income, write Dr. Lindsay C. Page, assistant professor of education and a research scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Benjamin L. Castleman, assistant professor of education and public policy at the University of Virginia in their 2014 book Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College.

According to the authors, 10 to 40 percent of the students, who have already been accepted to attend college, never finish the enrollment process over the summer. Latino boys have the worst rates of non-completion.

“In communities where large shares of students are Latino, we do observe high rates of summer melt,” Dr. Page wrote Latina Lista. “For example, in Fort Worth, TX, our colleague estimated summer melt to be over 40 percent. In Albuquerque, NM, where we implemented an intervention to support summer transition among students accepted into the University of New Mexico, we find that summer support was particularly important to improving on-time enrollment for male students of Latino origin.”

It’s no coincidence that the failure to complete the necessary paperwork for financial aid, housing and college enrollment should be predominant among the low-income. According to Dr. Page, it’s these low-income students who “are more likely” to be first in their families to attend college. So, when it comes to making sure paperwork is gathered and turned in by the designated deadline, parents can’t always offer the support their children need, since they themselves just don’t know what is expected.

“There are a number of steps that students need to accomplish over the summer – many but not all of these steps related to the financial aspects of attending college: finishing financial aid applications, setting up payment plans, paying the first tuition bill. These can be major stumbling blocks,” said Dr. Page. “In summer interventions that we have designed, much of the support that students seek out relates to financial aid. Nevertheless, other tasks, such as completing housing paperwork, taking placement exams, attending summer orientation, can also prove challenging for students, especially if they lack regular access to the internet or the funds required to complete pre-enrollment steps such as paying deposits.”

Dr. Page and her colleague feel that it’s crucial that help be provided to these students so they finish the enrollment process on time. Otherwise, the hope that they try again diminishes as time goes on.

“We know from other research that students who delay enrollment are much less likely to succeed in college. Therefore, we consider on-time college enrollment an important way to encourage ultimate college success.”

The authors offer several suggestions to high schools, colleges and communities on how to ensure a student, who has been accepted to college, actually arrives:

Start early: Start early with students in preparing them for the transition to college. This can start with proactively supporting students to apply for financial aid and complete the financial aid application process prior to high school graduation
Be available: Be available over the summer to provide support with the college transition
Be proactive: It’s not sufficient to let students know that counselors will be available to provide support. Instead be proactive in reaching out to students – for example via text message – to provide reminders about the steps that students should be taking, to ask specific questions about students’ progress with these steps, and to offer help and support.

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