Dallas Partnership Uses Text Messaging to Bridge the “Summer Melt”
This summer we wrapped up our Partnership’s successful efforts to boost financial aid applications – 650 more Dallas County seniors completed the FAFSA by Texas’ March 2015 priority deadline than last year, ensuring that more low-income students receive aid to support college enrollment.
However, the summer after high school graduation can also be difficult to navigate, as graduates don’t have access to their counselor and are not yet connected to a college campus. Even after being accepted to college, many students face hurdles enrolling in college. With these challenges, many Dallas County seniors fall off track, or “melt,” at some point during their senior year or during the summer and do not enroll in any postsecondary program.
To address this “summer melt” period in Dallas County, four school districts, 11 colleges and AT&T teamed up to launch a texting service based on national research that allowed students to receive reminders on college enrollment milestones and text back to counselors or higher education staff.
While postsecondary enrollment results won’t be available until early 2016, here are some early findings and lessons learned:
- 1,041 high school seniors opted in to participate
- Over 70% of participating students engaged in at least three conversations via text message as a result of the college reminder program
- Participating students were most likely to respond to messages that asked for a response or messages that asked how they were feeling
- Financial aid help was the most frequent conversations that occurred on the platform
- Opening up texting communication channels allowed students a safe place to ask questions of their high school counselors and college staff.
- Students continue to express trepidation about paying for college, which reinforces the Partnership’s focus on financial aid help.
- As a result of the text message reminders, districts became aware of summer transcript requests as a significant barrier students face when registering for college classes.
How our program worked:
- The Summer Melt Action Network mapped out key deadlines from January through September and wrote a set of pre-scheduled text messages. The network included school district College and Career Readiness Directors, higher education admissions and financial aid staff, and current college students. Commit! staff facilitated meetings, gathered national examples and training, brought AT&T in as a dedicated investor to cover the technology expenses, and is conducting an evaluation to understand what worked well and where improvements can be made.
- Seniors opted-in to receive the text message reminders.
- Text messages went out automatically about two times a week. Counselors and advisors had the option of also sending their own group texts specific to their campus.
- Students texted back when they had questions and engaged in two-way conversations with high school counselors and college advisors who replied through the SignalVine online texting portal.
- Once a student made their college decision, their account was transferred to the higher education partner which allowed the student to text directly with their admissions and financial aid representative.
Who we learned from:
The Dallas partners took bits and pieces of texting projects going on nationally and made it our own. Thanks to all the programs who were gracious enough to spend time with us on the phone or in person! We were inspired by and learned from:
- The Ray Marshall Center at The University of Texas at Austin
- West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission
- Strategic Data Project’s Summer Melt Handbook
We are always happy to share sample documents and/or what we’ve learned! Please feel free to reach out to Sarah.Jensen@commit2dallas.org with any questions or for samples of our Partnership’s work. Visit www.YouCanAffordCollege.org for all the latest Dallas-area college access and success events, including free financial aid professional development, community FAFSA/TASFA workshops, and open convenings.
About Sarah Jensen
Sarah Jensen has widespread experience as an education advocate and is dedicated to supporting education systems that allow college to be an option for all students.
Prior to joining Commit!, Sarah served as an Admissions Representative for Texas Lutheran University counseling prospective students on admissions and financial aid. As an admissions counselor, Sarah met students with extraordinary potential that didn’t see themselves as college material. This experience led her to devote her career to expanding students’ access to and success in postsecondary education.
Sarah’s previously held positions include Research Analyst for the National Math and Science Initiative and Graduate Intern for The Meadows Foundation. She currently volunteers as a college adviser for Dallas students through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentor 2.0 program. Sarah is a proud graduate of LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin and Trinity University.