This post is partly a nudge for you to sign up for the inaugural e-Literate Standard of Proof webinar coming up this Monday at 2 PM and partly a post to tell you why I’m so excited to be kicking off the series with this particular story.
My macro thesis for a while now has been that colleges and universities are in the early stages of a transformation from having a philosophical commitment to student success toward being operationally excellent at supporting and enabling student success. That proposition has been a little abstract for some. If you want to understand what that looks like in the real world, I can’t think of a better example than Georgia State University (GSU) under Tim Renick’s leadership. And this webinar will tell the story of one of his seminal achievements.
Summer Melt is the classic example of the kind of problem that is traditionally invisible to universities that think of student success as a philosophical commitment rather than a core operational responsibility. It’s the phenomenon where students graduate high school, apply to college, get admitted, say they’re coming, fully intend to come, and then never show up. It disproportionately hits first-generation students, students of color, and economically disadvantaged students. Why? Because getting from admission to the first day of classes is a lot harder than many of us remember. You have to fill out a FAFSA form, which as Renick put it yesterday in his IMS presentation, is basically a tax return. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t fill out my FAFSA. My dad did. Not every seventeen-year-old is lucky enough to be able to hand off that responsibility. Then there are inoculations, forms to be filled out and signed by relatives with whom you may or may not have contact, places to get to, fees to pay, and so on, and so on. In their eponymous book on the topic, researchers Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page tell us,
In some school districts where as many as 40 percent of college-intending students fail to matriculate, it would be more appropriate to refer to this as a “summer flood.”Castleman and Page, Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College
And some of these problems are very solvable—if you know about them. For example, once the GSU folks realized that immunizations were a problem that was preventing students from getting to the first day of classes, they started parking free immunization trucks outside during times when those soon-to-be students would be visiting campus.
The trick is knowing. So Tim Renick and his team partnered with an AI chatbot company called AdmitHub. It turns out that their CEO, Drew Magliozzi, had read the summer melt book too. And he thought his tool could do something about it. GSU brought in AdmitHub to try it out. But they also brought in Lindsay Page to conduct a randomized controlled trial. It’s one thing to say that you think your intervention improved a problem. It’s quite another to gather credible evidence.
And that’s what they did. According to GSU’s web page on the topic,
To help these students, the university identified the common obstacles to enrollment that students face between graduating high school and the start of college, including financial aid applications and documents, immunization records, placement exams and class registration, among others. Georgia State developed an approach that would help at-risk students through these obstacles by instituting a combination of a new student portal to guide students through the steps needed to be ready for the first day of classes and an artificial-intelligence-enhanced chatbot, “Pounce,” to answer thousands of questions from incoming students 24/7 via text messages on their smart devices.
In 2016, during the first summer of implementation, Pounce delivered more than 200,000 answers to questions asked by incoming freshmen, and the university reduced summer melt by 22 percent. This translated into an additional 324 students sitting in their seats for the first day of classes at Georgia State rather than sitting out the college experience.GSU, “Reduction of Summer Melt“
The “Standard of Proof” webinar series is designed to tell stories like this one: Universities working with credible vendor partners to learn and share something new and important about supporting students that is a benefit to the entire sector.
This is a canonical example of that, folks.