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Opinion: Four in 10 college-bound graduates don’t make it to the first day of class. Students need more support to stay on the degree path.

I work in education, so most people assume I’m on vacation during the summer. In fact, it’s my busiest time.

I’m a college adviser for the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF). I work with colleges, universities and college-bound graduates to help ensure they thrive academically and realize their dream of earning a college degree.

This type of support is hard to find during the summer, when it’s common for students to lose momentum.

Federico Rangel

Students’ support networks tend to diminish just as colleges and universities ask them to complete a laundry list of tasks to secure their enrollment. Coupled with emotional roadblocks that can present themselves when making big decisions about the future, enrollment can be a feat, particularly for those depending on loans, grants and scholarships. 

Blame it on the season’s reputation for leisure or a lack of resources, but many college-intending students — up to 40% nationwide — don’t show up for the first day of class. Known as “summer melt,” this phenomenon is prevalent across the country, with first-generation college students most vulnerable. 

Students like Jorge Armendarez — the first in his family to pursue a college education — have a higher chance of slipping through the cracks, particularly in the summer. Like many high school graduates, Armendarez lacked motivation and had lingering doubts about his future. What was different for him was his relationship with his college adviser, Gabe Guindon of the DSF.

“Gabe’s support helped me see that I’m capable of continuing my education, of realizing my potential,” Armendarez said. “We met after graduation in the summer and he kept encouraging me and helped me see there was a place for me at Metropolitan State University of Denver.”

Ensuring students have support from someone like Guindon to tackle logistical challenges of enrollment and stay on track with financial aid deadlines can prevent summer melt. It’s not for lack of ambition that these students don’t go to college.

They just need help checking all the boxes to get there. Many students simply need a reminder, especially in the summer, of what they’re working to achieve.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Developing a relationship with an adviser in high school can make a life-changing difference, as it did for Armendarez. But it takes more than that to ward off summer melt. Students need a multi-layered and connected support network to provide a strategic path during the transitional summer. This approach keeps student engaged in their academic careers and helps bridge the gap between graduation and orientation.

The tighter the support network — the more closely high school and postsecondary advisers collaborate — the less likely students are to veer off course. This summer, 23 college advisers at the DSF worked with 1,072 graduates of Denver Public Schools to navigate the final steps to successful college enrollment.

On-campus events allowed students to meet with their entire network in the summer and see a baton pass from those who supported them in high school to those who will support them in college. This collaboration among all advocates can eliminate uncertainty and ease the college transition.

Certainly, this adds to the summer workload, but schools are investing so much in students’ success. A little extra support in the summer goes a long way to help students as they inch closer to that major achievement of a college degree.

Communities and support networks that help students earn a high school diploma and select a college shouldn’t disappear when the academic year ends. 

I’d argue that we’d see an increase in college enrollment and the number of engaged and prepared freshmen at higher education institutions nationwide if more cities and communities adopted a holistic, collaborative and long-term approach to supporting students. 

Federico Rangel is Lead College Advisor at West High campus for the Denver Scholarship Foundation. 


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