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Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College

reviewed by Janice A. Dole - October 21, 2015

coverTitle: Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College
Author(s): Benjamin L. Castleman & Lindsay C. Page
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 1612507417, Pages: 268, Year: 2014
Search for book at Amazon.com

My father, a machinist with a 7th grade education, raised his family of four on a modest salary, accompanied by my mother’s on-and-off work as a part-time waitress. We lived a blue-collar working-class life. We were broke at the end of the month, but we did not want for basic necessities. I paid for a college education on my own, not because we could not afford it, but because my mother did not think a woman needed a college degree. I received some scholarship money, and the rest I paid by working during the summer.


Times have changed. Today a family of four, with one or more parents who are not college-educated, can hardly make ends meet on two salaries, let alone one. By and large, jobs for men and women without a college education pay minimum salaries, and minimum salaries cannot support a family of four. Even public universities have tuition costs that are more than an adolescent can make working summer jobs like I did.

In this new era of shrinking salaries, the middle-class has rapidly deteriorated, and we are being increasingly separated into two societies, one encompassing individuals with college and advanced degrees and one for all the rest. The available jobs for skilled workers like my father in the 1950s and 1960s are largely unavailable in the 2010s. Those without a college degree, largely coming from low-income families who themselves do not have college degrees, are disadvantaged often near or at the point of poverty.

The increase in the amount of money earned by level of education can be visualized as a staircase with those who do not complete high school at the very bottom, followed swiftly by those with a high school diploma only one step up the staircase. The 2012 U. S. Census Bureau reported median earnings of individuals who did not complete high school at $25,000, those with a high school diploma at $34,400, those with some college at $40,400, those with an associate’s degree at $44,800, those with a college degree at $56,000, and those with a professional degree at $102,200 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).

Education matters in our economic society today, and getting a college degree has become a necessity for almost all careers (Achieve, 2015). This is not so problematic for students of college-educated parents. 80% of these parents have high expectations that their children will attend college, and most of them do (Brownstein, 2014). But going to college is a challenge for students of parents like mine who are not college-educated. Often, these parents do not have the same expectations for their children, and many of these children do not have expectations of themselves.

Going to college will likely make a difference between living a comfortable life and struggling throughout life to make ends meet. However, Castleman and Page (2014) in their book Summer Melt point to another problem for many of our economically disadvantaged students. Too many hard-working, low-income students are accepted into college, commit to attend, even place a financial deposit, but never make it to the first day of class in the fall. These students have all the earmarks of a successful college and career future, but they cannot overcome certain obstacles that occur during the summer transition from high school to college. Thus, they drop out even before they have begun. Castleman and Page assert in their book that “summer melt is an important and overlooked barrier to college access for hard-working students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds” (p. 4).

Those who are interested in ensuring that hard-working, low-income students do attend college will appreciate and be thankful for Summer Melt. High school educators and counselors, university advisors, community-based financial aid advisors, and college counselors have in one place the research base that describes and explains why so many low-income students fail to matriculate and provides concrete and practical steps that individuals and communities can take to assist low-income students in matriculating into college in the fall.

The book begins with Arnold and her colleagues’ seminal work in some alternative schools in Rhode Island, where as many as one-third of the low-income students there were accepted into college but never made it to that first day (Arnold, Fleming, DeAnda, Castleman, & Wartman, 2009). Three students and their summers are then documented along with reasons why low-income students fail to enter the “college pipeline.”

The second and third parts of the book detail interventions, programs, and policies that can ameliorate the summer melt for low-income students. Concrete, specific help is made available to readers, including steps that high schools, colleges, community groups, and even the federal government can take to help low-income students matriculate. Successful examples of activities that organizations have tried are discussed, such as sample high school exit surveys, text messages templates and to-do lists for college matriculation. These examples provide readers with many tools to use to get started on interventions for low-income students during that difficult transition period between high school and college.

Not all the interventions and programs have been successful, and the percentage of students for whom the programs and interventions did work appears to be relatively small. Nevertheless, these programs identify and attempt to mitigate the burdens that low-income students face, often by themselves, because human and other resources are unavailable to them.

This book is relevant to educators and communities in a way that many books lack. The research on summer melt is recent and Castleman and Page are among the founding and important researchers in this new area. Additionally, it is helpful and hopeful to know that there are a finite number of primary reasons why low-income students fail to matriculate and that most of these reasons can be mitigated (although certainly not all of them—the haphazard nature of life can take its toll as well).

In an era where a college education has become a critical necessity for economic success and well-being in life, Summer Melt will be appreciated by all those who seek to help our most disadvantaged students have a life that they want and a life better than the one they grew up with.


Achieve (2015). Rising to the challenge: Views on high school graduates’ preparedness for college and careers. Hart Research Associates. Retrieved from http://www.achieve.org/files/AchieveSurveyIIPowerPoint.pdf

Arnold, K. C., Fleming, S., DeAnda, M., Castleman, B. L., & Wartman, K. L. (2009). The summer flood: The invisible gap among low-income students. Thought and Action, 2324.

Barton, P. E. (2000). What jobs require: Literacy, education and training 1940-2006. Educational Testing Service, Policy Information Center Research Division Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from https://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICJOBS.pdf

Brownstein, R. (2014, June 29). Are college degrees inherited? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/04/are-college-degrees-inherited/360532/

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 21, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18158, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 1:21:10 PM

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About the Author
  • Janice Dole
    University of Utah
    E-mail Author
    JANICE A. DOLE is Professor and Director of the Reading and Literacy Program at the University of Utah. Her research interests include comprehension instruction, reading reform in schools and professional development. She is the author of Reading across multiple texts in the Common Core classroom, K-5 and Adolescent Literacy: Research and Practice. Her current projects include a study on high school studentsí interest and its effects on reading comprehension and middle school studentsí writing of arguments.
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