“Summer melt” — when college-intending students disengage from education in the transition between high school and higher education — impacts 40 percent of Tennessee’s high school graduates each year. SCORE’s recent report, Stopping Summer Melt: What Students Say & What Tennessee Can Do, looks at how almost 20,000 Tennessee high school graduates experience summer melt annually – and offers recommendations to keep these students on the path to higher education.

Though it will take a coordinated response that spans K-12 and postsecondary education to fully address this challenge, this blog focuses on recommendations for ways that Tennessee’s postsecondary system can better support these students.

  • Postsecondary institutions can host high-quality summer programs that support students between high school graduation and their first semester of college. The report specifically suggests scaling the Summer Institute model currently offered at Southwest Tennessee Community College, which is a 10-week program including 18 hours of corequisite instruction. If institutions receive the necessary funding, these programs can increase students’ exposure to postsecondary education and make the transition from high school more seamless. 
  • Postsecondary systems can continue strengthening data collection and reporting on the postsecondary application process. Tennessee’s colleges of applied technology (TCATs) often have long waitlist to enroll, and the report shares how students cite waitlists as a leading reason for disruptions in education plans. The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) can improve reporting about TCAT waitlists to increase transparency around the process so that students, families, and counselors can access data to inform postsecondary planning.
  • The state should provide financial supports that cover costs of higher education beyond tuition for low-income students. In interviews for the summer melt report, one student noted that, “having four other siblings around my age, my parents can’t afford to send all of us to college. Even with scholarships, books and housing costs really add up.” Funding mechanisms to cover additional needs for low-income students could make a difference in a student’s ability to fulfill their goal of enrolling in postsecondary education.
  • The state should expand scholarship supports for students unable to enroll in higher education immediately after high school graduation but not yet eligible for Tennessee Reconnect. Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect are the state’s landmark last-dollar scholarships that notably expand access to higher education. However, Promise is only available immediately after high school graduation and Reconnect is only available for students who are 24 and older or students who are deemed “independent” on the FAFSA. The Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA) is available for all Tennessee economically disadvantaged students, even if they are ineligible for both Promise and Reconnect. The report suggests increasing the maximum value of TSAA and increasing the overall investment in the program to support students who fall in the gap of last-dollar scholarship eligibility.  

These recommendations, in additional to the many K-12- and partnership-focused recommendations in the report, provide strategies to reduce summer melt. Excitingly, some progress has already been made. At a Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) meeting on September 23, 2021, the Board of Directors voted to increase the value of TSAA to $2,000 for community and technical college students — doubling the previous value for TCATs. Discussion around the increase emphasized the intention to close the gap for students no longer eligible for Promise but not yet eligible for Reconnect.

SCORE hopes the state will continue expanding much-needed support for students who are navigating the often-difficult transition between high school and higher education.

Madeline Price is SCORE’s K-12 policy analyst.