The Bridge to Success
Over the past several weeks, a number of our incoming freshmen have been on campus participating in one of our two summer bridge programs. These are voluntary programs designed to help students “bridge” their high school experience to the challenges of college life.
Summer bridge programs are not a new idea. I was involved in these programs over 20 years ago. As an interesting side note, the programs I oversaw at that time were funded by the state. Despite the rhetoric by both the state and federal governments that academic success and student retention are critical, such funding is virtually non-existent.
The two programs offered at Anna Maria College are funded through the Balfour Foundation and the Sisters of St. Anne. We are extraordinarily thankful for their generosity and support. The College also subsidizes these programs from its own operating budget. And they are worth it!
AMC's summer bridge programs help students with skills training, familiarity with the College and socialization. And the results are impressive. Students who complete these programs have significantly higher GPA’s and retention rates. So although students attending summer bridge need to give up a week or more of their summer jobs and summer activities, they will reap the benefits over the next four years. Let me describe some of the goals and intended outcomes.
While all of our new students meet or exceed our admission requirements, their high school experiences are not the same. Some come from high schools with more developed writing, critical thinking, math and science programs. Some have the opportunity to take college level courses while still in high school. Our bridge programs focus heavily on writing and thinking skills. Every day, students in these programs participate in sessions lead by our best faculty. They also have access to peer mentors and tutors.
Our summer bridge programs also focus on skills and practices related to academic success where students are taught strategies to manage their academic load, study more effectively and plan their academic semester. One of the biggest risks for freshmen at every college in America is falling behind. These students are taught how to stay on schedule and even get ahead.
Familiarity to the College is an important aspect of bridge programs. During their time on campus in the summer, student participants meet most of the staff and many faculty members. They visit offices and learn when, where and how to access resources. They also learn about co-curricular opportunities so that when they return at the end of August, they already have a plan for engaging in campus life.
Another key factor in freshmen failure is a lack of connectedness. Many of our students will arrive on campus for the Fall semester having never been away from home for any length of time. They miss their family and friends. They need to adjust to a new environment and in many cases, sharing a room for the first time in their lives.
The summer bridge programs build community. Through the day-to-day activities with their cohort of students and their every evening social activities, they meet people and make friends. This socialization makes the Fall transition easier. They are already part of the Freshmen class and an active member of the AMC community.
One of the greatest responsibilities every college has is to help every student to graduate. We need to work as hard retaining students as we do recruiting them. The summer bridge programs are critical components of our retention efforts and demonstrably successful ones.
People often refer to waste in Washington by describing public works projects like “the bridge to nowhere.” I am happy to say that the programs at AMC are a bridge to success.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)