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Why Aren't Students Showing Up For College?

According to research from Harvard, between 10% and 40% of the kids who intend to go to college at the time of high school graduation don't actually show up in the fall. Education researchers call this phenomenon "summer melt," and it has long been a puzzling problem.
According to research from Harvard, between 10% and 40% of the kids who intend to go to college at the time of high school graduation don't actually show up in the fall. Education researchers call this phenomenon "summer melt," and it has long been a puzzling problem.

Every year, many students who have overcome daunting obstacles in high school receive good news — they've been accepted to college.

These kids represent a success story: through hard work and determination, they've made into college, and perhaps even on to a better life.

Except it doesn't always work out that way.

"The rate with which kids who are college-intending do not actually get to college in the fall is surprisingly high," says Lindsay Page, an education researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. "In one sample that we looked at in the Boston area, we find that upwards of 20% of kids who at the time of high school graduation say that they're continuing on to college — about 20% of those kids don't actually show up in the fall."

Researchers call this phenomenon "summer melt" — and for universities, it has long been a puzzling problem. Because these are the kids who made it: they've taken the SATs, been accepted to a college of their choice, applied for and received financial aid. Why wouldn't they show up for college on day one?

This week on Hidden Brain, we explore this problem, and how one university is working to fix it.

The Hidden Brain Podcast is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Renee Klahr, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, and Lucy Perkins. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: July 18, 2017 at 12:00 AM EDT
Lindsay Page was identified in this podcast as an education researcher at Harvard. While she was indeed at Harvard at the time we conducted our interview with her, she is now at the University of Pittsburgh. We regret the error.