Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Do Summer Bridge Programs Improve First-Year Success?

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Do Summer Bridge Programs Improve First-Year Success?

Article excerpt

One of the many challenges facing our colleges, particularly our community colleges, is bringing underprepared students up to par to do collegelevel work. Traditionally, this has been done by providing developmental courses in math, reading, and/or writing during the first college semester. There are several disadvantages to such an approach. The courses usually don't carry course credit towards a degree, prolonging completion and adding expense to the college experience. Additionally, many students in such courses feel unmotivated and demoralized.

Summer bridge programs are designed to reduce the need for developmental education once students are enrolled in college. They might solve the problem of underpreparedness by having recent high school graduates study remedial reading, writing, and/or math during an intensive summer period, along with an introduction to college to ease the transition from high school to college prior to the fall semester.

That transition from high school to college might involve factors beyond academic readiness. Given what we already know about the importance of the affective dimension to student success and the role relationships play in contributing to college completion, the summer bridge programs may provide an opportunity for bonding with other students, faculty, and the institution where they will enroll.

The question remains - Are such summer bridge programs effective in promoting student success in college?

The National Center for Postsecondary Research (NCPR) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) conducted research, beginning in 2009, tracking 1,300 mostly Hispanic college students, enrolled at seven community colleges throughout Texas and one four-year university, who participated in a summer bridge program. The report is titled Getting Ready for College: An Implementation and Early Impacts Study of Eight Texas Developmental Summer Bridge Programs.

The summer bridge program is part of a larger initiative launched in Texas in 2000 - an ambitious statewide strategic plan called Closing the Gaps by 2015. Its overall objective is to increase enrollment and academic success in Texas colleges and universities.

As part of that objective, the state created developmental summer bridge programs intended to reduce or eliminate the need for developmental courses, enabling participants to perform college-level work their first semester. These intensive summer programs offer remedial instruction in math, reading, and/or writing along with an introduction to college.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in 2007, funded 22 colleges to develop summer bridge programs, part of a nationwide attempt to improve college readiness.

The bridge programs typically offer intense study for four or five weeks during the summer before students enroll in college. Beyond instruction, the programs include tutoring, additional labs, and student support services in an integrated approach designed to smooth the process of transitioning to college.

Although summer enrichment programs have been tried across the nation, little empirical research has been done testing outcomes.

In 2009, NCPR initiated an assessment of the effectiveness of eight developmental summer bridge programs in Texas. The essential questions are: Do these programs reduce the need for developmental coursework when students enter college? Do they contribute to student success?

In order to go beyond correlational data and answer the cause-effect questions, NCPR used an experimental design to measure the effects of summer bridge programs on the need for developmental course work in students' first semesters and to determine whether or not students were successful in their first-year coursework. At each of the eight colleges, students who consented to participate in the experiment were randomly assigned to one of two groups: an experimental group, the summer bridge participants, or the control group, students receiving the college's regular services. …

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