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College Students Now Receiving Text Message Reminders to Show Up

Incoming college students are melting every summer, and it has nothing to do with the heat.

The “summer melt” is a phenomenon based on the statistic that 10-40 percent of incoming first-years don’t actually report for classes in the fall. At the top end of those numbers are lower-income students.

The reason: For many, the hurdles necessary to jump to arrive at school are too high. There’s a lot of paperwork, for one, including the complex and confusing Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. There are logistical tasks, like creating a budget and applying for scholarships and loans, and registering for housing and orientation. Some kids have full-time jobs, or are caring for siblings or parents.

The parents of first-generation college students may not be savvy in the ins-and-outs of matriculation. Students entering community college are especially prone to melting.

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To combat the problem, some schools have turned to text messages to encourage students to take the extra steps and show up.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education has gotten in on the texting game, and in 2016, the “Summer Nudging” program reached 1,800 students at 300 public schools in the state, according to the office’s website.

The weekly texts are personalized, sent between January and December, and will connect students with resources on their campuses, give them answers to their questions via two-way messaging, and can be translated into Spanish.

“They ask anything from how do I get to my college or what bus route do I take,” Kat Klima, program director for “Summer Nudging,” told Minnesota’s MPR News.

In December, the program even posted a video to spread the word.

Texting has been a part of a years-long strategy on the part of many school systems to combat the melt.

It reaches kids where they are — on their phones — and it’s cheap; studies estimate it costs schools less than $10 a kid. Two professors from the University of Virginia wrote about this “low-touch intervention” in a frequently cited 2014 study that built on years of previous work on the subject.

For educators, the goal is to eliminate the stigma surrounding summer melt that suggests students just aren’t ready for college.

“Everybody needs a little bit of a reminder,” Klima told MPR. “And maybe the students who aren’t ‘ready’ haven’t been giving the access or the opportunity in their high school career.”