“Summer melt,” the term used to describe when a college-intending student doesn’t successfully transition from high school and higher education, affects one-third of college-intending students in Tennessee. In the SCORE report Stopping Summer Melt: What Students Say & What Tennessee Can Do, we partnered with tnAchieves to identify college-intending students who did not enroll in higher education the fall after graduating high school. Their stories informed the recommendations in the report. Take Noah, for example.
Noah grew up in East Tennessee with a goal of being the first in his family to earn a college degree. He graduated from high school, but the cost of higher education has kept his college goal out of reach. “Even with Tennessee Promise, I simply couldn’t afford to support myself and go to college,” Noah said.
Since graduating, Noah finds that enrolling in college is even more inaccessible. “In order to scrape by, I was forced to go into low-paying entry-level jobs, and I honestly don’t know how to get out of it now,” he said.
Across surveys and focus groups, graduates consistently shared that cost was a big barrier to enrolling in college. Even with the strides made in Tennessee to improve college access and affordability through the Tennessee Promise scholarship, many students still struggle to enroll due to a lack of financial support. In our surveys, 25 percent of respondents said finances were a primary reason they did not enroll in college immediately after graduating high school.
How can we stop summer melt and better support students like Noah? With a completion grant to go with his Tennessee Promise scholarship, Noah could have enrolled in community college in 2019, completed his degree/certificate, and by now would be ready for a higher-paying job. While the Tennessee Promise scholarship meets tuition needs, completion grants can cover costs like textbooks, gas, groceries, and technology that can be barriers to postsecondary enrollment or persistence.
Legislation passed earlier this year will help students like Noah. A four-year pilot program has been established to provide completion grants to Tennessee Promise students who experience financial hardships that would prevent them from staying in school. Other completion grant programs such as Knox Promise and Nashville GRAD are available to a limited number of students and offer some support for students like Noah who need additional funding to cover nontuition costs.
Right now, Noah is working full time and earning just enough to meet his needs. Without a degree or certificate, he may not have access to the higher-paying job opportunities that will bring more financial stability. And trends continue to point toward an economic future that will heavily favor those with postsecondary credentials.
When asked what he would need to enroll in college, Noah responded: “If I could have rent or utility assistance so I could work part time instead and balance school, then I would go to college in a heartbeat.”
Too many Tennesseans like Noah are missing out on the opportunity for career and life success that comes with earning a postsecondary degree or credential. The continued availability and expansion of completion grant programs will enable Tennessee students like Noah to see college as an attainable goal. This is just one way we can reduce barriers like affordability and ensure more students realize the benefits that come with higher education.
Download Stopping Summer Melt to read all of the recommendations for stopping summer melt.
Alexis Parker is SCORE’s senior data and research analyst. Diane Hughes, SCORE’s communications manager, contributed to this post.