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Summer Bridge Programs Hold Promise as Model

Ramon Jimenez is a counselor at El Paso Community College who helps high school students make the transition to college. Often, students are overwhelmed by new environment and freedom. "They are a little bit scared," he says. "It's a fear of a big campus and brand-new area."

His role is to guide, assist, and motivate students so they survive the first year and beyond. In the summer, Jimenez helps with Project Dream, a summer bridge program for at-risk students who need extra instruction to brush up on their math and English skills. About 120 students come to campus four hours a day, for five weeks for the program. When they aren't in intensive academic classes,
Jimenez is putting on workshops for them on time management and learning styles. This kind of support, along with having a mentor, and being able to meet professors in smaller groups, gives students a good jump-start on their college career, says Jimenez.

A recent study of development summer bridge programs in Texas, including the one in El Paso, shows the approach works. The three-year study by the National Center for Postsecondary Research and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board tracked more than 1,300 students who participated in these programs and tested below college level at the start of the summer. After the program, summer bridge students were more likely to pass college-level writing and math in their first semester of college than students in the control group.

The model holds promise, especially as more first-generation students are encouraged to pursue higher education but need extra support to be successful. The challenge is to adequately fund summer bridge programs in the current, tight economic climate. (The El Paso program is taking a hiatus this summer because of lack of money.) Experts anticipate a growing demand for transition services from high school to college. Many hope these small programs can be scaled up as research underscores their effectiveness. To learn more about these programs, see my story, Colleges Offer Incoming Freshman a Summer 'Bridge'.

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