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Schools use texting to help kids get to college

In an attempt to avoid losing students between high school graduation and the first day of freshman year, schools are using text messaging to keep them on track.

Educators in West Virginia, Minnesota and New York have launched a program designed to help kids stay on the college track. Approximately 10 to 30 percent of students, depending on their socio-economic status, accepted to a college or university ultimately do not enroll or attend come September.

The students who don’t make it are believed to have experienced what Harvard researchers call “the summer melt.” Students lose steam between graduation and the first day of college and choose not to continue with a post-secondary education.

This failure is attributed in part to these students missing important steps in the college-prep process. Steps like applying for financial aid by deadline or providing all necessary documents for FAFSA applications often creep up unbeknownst to first-time college students.

“Summer is this unique time when students aren’t getting nudged and reminded of what they need to do,” Ben Castleman, Summer Melt researcher said to Harvard EdCast. “High school teachers tell students what assignments to complete, even in college, students get syllabi and reminders, but in the summer, because there aren’t counselors and their parents don’t know what to do, students aren’t getting reminders.”

The texting program was initiated by the Summer Melt research and has proven effective, finding that in those areas matriculation raised 11 percent from the year before. It’s an 18-month program that helps students keep in touch with academic advisors at local universities and high school college counselors. It’s designed to help students apply, enroll and pay for college on time.

“We wanted to connect students with college support staff earlier,” Jessica A. Kennedy, assistant director of communications at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission said to Education Week. “When students transition from high school to college they don’t have anyone to reach out to in the summer. They are scrambling to build new support systems and want more.”

Students agree that the texts are helpful. Octavia E Smoot, a senior at Schott High School in Madison, West Virginia, told Education Week that the program worked well for her because she never puts her phone down.

“Teenagers would rather text than go in and talk to a counselor," Smoot said. "Texting is the way we communicate."

The program is designed to prompt action based on what the student has already submitted and what is still required. Some of the texts are automated, but many are sent by counselors, and students can always respond with questions.

Josie Lacek, a student program adviser at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College told Education Week that most of the questions are about financial aid because of the complex timeline and paperwork. She said that the program is great for those who have pre-college jitters.

This has proven particularly helpful in the case of first-generation students, or those whose parents did not participate or graduate from a higher-education establishment.

Lacek explained that when students are the first in their families to attend college, they have no point of reference and need someone to help them navigate the experience.

Not only is the texting program effective, it’s proven affordable. Education Week reported that it found the intervention to cost about $7 per student, including the costs associated with building and implementing the program.

EMAIL: nshepard@deseretnews.com TWITTER: @NicoleEShepard