‘Summer Bridge’ Gives First-Generation College Students Needed Boost

Improve Retention by Connecting Students to Academic, Financial, and Career Help

College Students

The transition from high school to college is difficult for everyone, but especially so for low-income, first-generation college students, or FGCSs. FGCSs are typically less equipped to face the responsibilities and pressures of college life. Without intervention, these students simply don’t apply for college or university—and many that do matriculate end up dropping out within the first couple of years.

One solution to this problem is a Summer Bridge program that takes a holistic approach to easing the transition from high school to college, explains Dr. Paz Maya Oliverez in her AudioSolutionz webinar on using Summer Bridge programs to improve FGCSs’ success.

FGCSs face unique challenges. For instance, according to research described in “First-Generation College Students: A Literature Review,” they are generally:

  • Less knowledgeable about how to apply for college and financial aid,
  • Less academically prepared in general, and
  • Less supported by family and peers.

To succeed in college, these students’ particular needs must be addressed, Oliverez stresses.

Make a Campus-Wide Effort

Wondering how to afford a Summer Bridge program?  Today, many higher education institutions face resource limitations, such as inadequate staffing and funding, as well as competition with other campus programs. And grants can be hard to secure if you can’t show empirical evidence of your program’s effectiveness. But you can overcome these obstacles with careful planning and a willingness to start small.

Start by examining how a Summer Bridge program would fit into your particular institution. Consider:

  • Program goal(s)
  • Program size and structure
  • Curricular components
  • Scope of program and services, and
  • Your institutional/program capacity.

Next, get the support of campus leadership, such as the President and the Provost. Engage faculty and involve graduate students and FGC alumni, too. Make the initiative an all-hands-on-deck affair. Overall, partnership with faculty and other campus departments will help integrate the program into your campus, creating a sense of community for all FGCSs.

Give FGCSs a Sense of Belonging

Factors such as your campus culture, budget, staff size, and participant pool will determine what your Summer Bridge Program looks like, notes Oliverez. And don’t forget to gather evidence of what has worked in the past.

To create a holistic program, Oliverez encourages you to consider including these elements:

  • Link students with academic advisors and peer mentors to foster a connection to the campus
  • Make career exploration and financial planning resources readily available
  • Offer workshops on study skills and stress management
  • Include course credit in key areas of math and/or reading
  • Orient students to available campus resources

It’s important for FGC students to feel supported and connected in order to achieve the goal of completing their degree, according to student success experts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A study conducted by Michigan State University researchers echoes this sentiment: Students who feel a strong sense of belonging are more likely to be confident in their academic ability, feel more motivated, and be more willing to stay and pursue their degree. For FGCSs, who very well may not receive needed support at home, feeling connected to the college community is critical.

Think Beyond Year One

If set up effectively, Summer Bridge Programs can give FGCSs the sense of community—with both peers and professors –that they need to succeed in college.

Case in point: Ninety two students who went through the Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Summer Bridge Program (TLSAMP) returned after their first year, according to a report by educators at Jackson State University and Tennessee State University.

But, while there is evidence  that Summer Bridge programs help students get to college and get through the first year, keeping them in school will take a broad, community-wide effort. Consider also creating an FGCS organization on campus where students can connect, create mentorships, and get ongoing support.

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Martha Summerlin
About Martha Summerlin
Martha has experience in the clinical trial space, where she assists with preparation of regulatory documents and provides translation services. As a professional writer, she covers diverse topics in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, international trade and relations, and travel. Previously, she worked as a financial analyst identifying key trends on a global level and vetting industry experts for interviews with clients.