Stockton University has received acceptance deposits of $250 from about 1,725 high school graduates who say they plan to enroll in the Atlantic County institution as freshmen for the 2018-2019 academic year.

But come September, the university knows that just about 1,600 of these students will actually show up.

Each year at Stockton, about 7 percent of the prospective students fall into the pool of "summer melt" — an industry-specific term describing the folks who commit to a school, but — for any number of reasons — take a different route and never enroll.

"Some of the students who submit their deposit don't even take part in the summer orientation program," said Bob Heinrich, Stockton's chief enrollment management officer.

It's a systematic issue experienced by schools throughout New Jersey and the nation. It picked up as more students and families started dropping deposits at multiple schools to secure their spot and get a better feel for each location.

"For a lot of them, this is the first and most significant decision of their life," said Drew Aromando, vice president for enrollment management at Rider University in Lawrence Township.

But the "melting" isn't necessarily voluntary for all who never make it to campus in the fall. Completing the college enrollment process can be daunting, especially for first-generation students who may lack support from anyone who's gone through the process in the past.

"This can be a lot of unknown terms, a lot of steps that you may not have taken," said Soumitra Ghosh, assistant vice president of student recruitment at Rowan University in Glassboro, where the melt rate has landed between 5 and 7 percent over the past five years.

Rowan University campus
Rowan University campus (Rowan University)

"Sometimes students can just give up and say I can't even fathom how to do this," Ghosh said.

According to a spokesman for Rutgers University—New Brunswick, summer melt is typically in the range of 10 percent. But the university may see a reduction in the melt rate this year.

Colleges and universities are consistently looking for ways to chip away at the percentage of students who vanish between spring and fall.

"Research shows that students who delay their enrollment are less likely to complete a postsecondary degree," said Heinrich at Stockton. "If there's that gap there, they may just not persist in going after higher education."

Whether prospective students are juggling a couple potential schools, or don't know how to navigate through the summer paperwork and deadlines, institutions are attempting to increase interaction with students and their families to keep them involved.

At Rowan, acceptance packages are sent earlier than they had been in the past, and specialists on campus are assigned to reach out to specific students over the summer months.

Stockton, among other efforts, has created an "admitted students" Facebook page where incoming freshmen can communicate with staff and their future peers.

Rider puts "a lot of investment" in making sure future students get all the information one may need and have opportunities to visit the campus and get a true feel for the college experience, Aromando said.

"A lot of it really just boils down to communication with students — communication about deadlines, communicating about the institution so that students can really see themselves there," said Jeff Indiveri-Gant, director of undergraduate admissions at Montclair State University.

Indiveri-Gant said the university expects to enroll a class of 3,100 students this fall, despite receiving about 3,375 nonrefundable deposits.

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