SmartStart program helps boost college success by reducing summer melt

The inaugural year of the M3 (pronounced M-Cubed) SmartStart program showed great promise in helping high school students follow through on their intent to enroll in college.

SmartStart launched in advance of the Fall 2022 semester as a partnership among UW–Milwaukee, Milwaukee Area Technical College, and Milwaukee Public Schools. Its explicit goal is to reduce the phenomenon of “summer melt,” which occurs when high school graduates say they intend to enroll in college, but then fail to do so. This happens with roughly 10% to 40% of high school seniors nationally, according to Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy research. For local context, 63% of Milwaukee Public Schools high school graduates in 2019 said they intended to enroll in college, but only 40% completed the enrollment process.

SmartStart set up summer support sessions for an initial cohort of 62 MPS graduates, including a math course taught through UW–Milwaukee and Milwaukee Area Technical College that 19 students completed to earn a $250 scholarship. Overall, 47 of the 62 students enrolled at either UWM or MATC, a success rate of 75.8%.

The SmartStart program continued through the fall semester with coaching sessions designed to foster student retention throughout the school year. In addition to students from the initial cohort, further recruitment brough the total number of students to 276. By completing three or more coaching sessions, students could earn a $250 scholarship, and 59 students did so, including 12 who had earned scholarships from the summer session. Of those 59 students, 33 were enrolled at UWM, and 93.9% of them were retained into the spring semester, while 26 were at MATC, and 65.4% of them were retained into spring.

The SmartStart program will continue into a second year, with an ultimate goal of serving as many as 500 students annually.