Summer College Melt

Love this new study. There was a group of 162 recent grads from seven innovative small high schools in Providence. The school network is called Big Picture Company. About 80% of the kids were black or Hispanic, and about 65% from low-income families. The scholars, Ben Castleman and Lindsay Page, randomly selected 81 of the 162 kids. Two of the Big Picture regular college counselors were hired to work for an extra 10 weeks -- from mid-June to Labor Day -- to help the 81. The "help" was additional, post-graduate services.

The support given to these largely low-income students of color, many of whom were poised to be first-generation college-goers, ranged from financial-aid guidance, help completing college paperwork, and help coping with personal or family concerns. Counselors deliberately did not reach out to another control group of similar students.

The cost of the intervention was $188 per student, or less than $15,000.

The goal here was to increase college enrollment.

Here was the starting point. A table in the paper shows that 80% of seniors were saying they planned to go to college, but 3 months after graduation, only 32% had enrolled as full-time college students. This is called "summer melt."

[Hey Dad. I thought this would be a good place to acknowledge the NY Giants supremacy over the New England Patriots. It stung. It did. Hope you enjoyed it.]

So, reader, what do you predict from the extra counseling? Did the treatment group kids -- those who got counseling -- end up better off than the control group kids? No different? Or worse (occasionally experiments create counterproductive effects)? What do you think?

The result: Treatment group students enrolled in college at a rate of 47%. So a large uptick over the 32% in the control group. Statistically significant.

You can read the whole paper here. (PDF).

Two thoughts:

1. Big props to the researchers for a great design. I met one of them, Ben C, some years ago when he was a grad student working with Harvard's Kay Merseth. Even back then he was examining college-going and persistence.

2. Great credit to Dennis and Eliot et al of the Big Picture Company, opening up their school network to outside researchers. I'm sure it helped their school (presumably, if they can find the funding, they want to scale this sort of help now to all the kids). But it also helps everyone else by sharing reliable data with the field. We all have a lot to learn about college success.