Skip to Main ContentCOE HomeSDSU Home

Search I&I News

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

CSP’s Owen Nets Kresge Foundation Grant to Address ‘COVID Melt’

Dr. Laura Owen

“Summer melt” is a well-established phenomenon in higher education. The term refers to the significant number of high school seniors intending to enroll in college, but who do not show up to campus the semester following high school graduation. For students from large urban school districts, that number ranges from 21 to 50 percent. 

In these pandemic times, however, summer melt might be the tip of the iceberg. 

“COVID melt” is now upon us. 

“This is summer melt on steroids,” said Dr. Laura Owen, an adjunct professor in San Diego State University’s Department of Counseling and School Psychology who has studied and developed interventions to combat summer melt for the past decade. 

Thanks to a new $250,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, Owen will now be at the forefront of the fight against COVID melt. And she’ll have plenty to contend with. 

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, direct high school to college enrollment for Fall 2020 — the first post-pandemic incoming class — dropped by 21%. At schools with high numbers of minority students, the drop is 33%. FAFSA and Common Application completion for the class of 2021 are down as well, a worrisome signal that COVID melt rates may fall even sharper again. 

“We have some warning alarms that are sounding and need to figure out what's happening,” Owen said. “Our immediate concern is who will reach out to these students? They're not high school students anymore, they're not college students yet and no one has them on their radar. How are we going to understand who they are and where we can reach them?” 

Owen’s mission is to find out — and then devise ways to stem the tide. 

Conducting her work through SDSU’s Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment (CEPA), which she launched this spring and for which she now serves as executive director, Owen will begin by piloting a survey in San Diego’s City Heights community. The goal is to develop an understanding of the complex factors that led to students from the Hoover High classes of 2020 and 2021 to withdraw from or not enroll in college amid the pandemic. 

The City Heights pilot will then inform a nationwide survey, which will be launched in the fall. The next step will be to develop counseling and advising resource tools based on the archetypes that emerge, and to disseminate that information through a partnership with the American College Application Campaign

“If we can develop these archetypes and truly understand what is happening for a student — and recognize that those needs are going to look different region to region — then we can create supports and resources that match student needs,” Owen said. “We’re really looking at making recommendations to get tools in the hands of practitioners and get information in the hands of students and parents.” 

Learn more about the fight against COVID melt on CEPA’s College Counseling Now website, which tracks and links postsecondary advising resources by state and includes instructional webinars and blog posts featuring student and parent voices.