Perhaps your soon-to-be college student has been invited to participate in a Summer Bridge Program at their college, or perhaps they are even being required to attend before beginning the regular semester in the fall. Bridge programs may have varying names, but the purpose is similar at all colleges: to provide incoming students with the academic skills necessary to be successful in their college experience.
Bridge programs are designed to improve the preparation and ease the transition into college in the fall. Students who attend, often students who are at risk or in need of remedial classes, may have a reduced need for developmental classes during their first semester of college. According to a 2006 Journal of Higher Education, approximately 40% of students at traditional colleges and nearly 60% of students at community colleges take at least one developmental course during college. According to the Economics of Education Review in 2010, fewer than 50% of students referred to developmental classes complete the recommended sequence. Students who are less prepared for college are less likely to return for a second year of college. Clearly, giving students a head start will help.
Summer Bridge Programs may have varying names and may be very individualized at each campus. If your student attends, they might expect to spend between four and six weeks in intensive, targeted coursework and tutoring, perhaps including labs and work with support services on campus. Students who may be specifically invited to attend might include those who are lower income, have a diagnosed learning disability, first generation, minority background, or perhaps did not pass multiple placement exams. Some institutions may invite students in particularly challenging majors or even particularly gifted students. At some institutions, acceptance into the incoming class in the fall may be contingent on successful completion of the Bridge Program.
The content of Bridge Programs varies widely, but is always intended to give students a head start for fall. It may include general “college knowledge”, study skills, time management, information about learning styles, strategies for studying, information about expectations, career counseling or computer literacy. Academic content may include accelerated instruction in developmental math, reading and writing skills. Some programs include a community service element as well.
Students attending Bridge Programs may receive a small stipend to compensate for loss of summer employment. Some programs may include a parent involvement component to give parents an opportunity to learn how to best support their student. Most programs create small cohorts of students to give them an opportunity to make connections and to bond with other students. Students are also given an opportunity to develop relationships on campus with mentors, advisors, members of the support community and others who may help them during the academic year.
Students who attend Bridge Programs often evaluate the experience favorably. They enjoy the social aspects and appreciate the connections. They report higher levels of self-confidence as they begin their freshman year. One study has suggested that students’ first year GPA (grade point average) tends to be higher.
If your student has the opportunity to attend a Summer Bridge Program at their chosen college, help them consider the option carefully. It may provide an important and unique way to get a beneficial head start.