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Summer bridge programs (SBP) are typically month-long intensive preparatory coursework offered to entering undergraduates with poor or little to no background in an academic subject.
Several studies have found that bad experiences or poor performance in core introductory courses lead to much of the documented attrition rate among minority students, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. STEM students with no previous experience in basic calculus, physics, chemistry, and writing are at a significant disadvantage in large introductory classes, which are gateways to upper-level coursework yet are not nurturing learning environments for students varying educational backgrounds.
In the field of economics, which is a field highly similar to the STEM fields, attrition rates among minority students is also high due to poor performance in core introductory courses. Economics students with no previous experience in basic calculus, technical writing, and higher level reading are at an extreme disadvantage and therefore will be less likely to pursue a degree in the field.
The University of Pennsylvania investigated the efficacy of a 4-week residential SBP designed to ease transition to the college environment for “at risk” freshmen. Participants were selected on basis of high school rank and standardized test scores and randomly assigned to experimental or control groups.
Courses undertaken included rigorous academic work in English, mathematics, and a course from the student’s intended major. The Penn SBP emphasizes collaborative learning, time management skill formation, individual- and team-based assessments, close faculty involvement, and one-on-one student-student interaction. After the program, participants were also encouraged to maintain ties with a faculty advisor and collaborative learning groups over the course of the regular semester.
The efficacy of the program was determined by comparing cumulative GPA, retention rate, interviews, and other standardized metrics between control and experimental groups. The physics SBP students “scored one letter grade higher in cumulative grade point average for the freshman year. [Additionally], all of the students from the 1991 stretch physics class subsequently joined in as research students during the summer of 1992.” Increased involvement with research is known to increase retention rates in STEM fields. Similar SBP at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Louisiana State University with engineering and biology respectively have seen the same success with retention.
Tanaka, J., and L. Gladney. "Teaching Biophysics. Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Minorities in Physics and Biophysics." Biophysical Journal 65.1 (1993): 552-58. Print.
Waller, Tremayne O. "A Mixed Method Approach For Assessing The Adjustment Of Incoming First-Year Engineering Students In A Summer Bridge Program." Diss. Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 2009. A Mixed Method Approach For Assessing The Adjustment Of Incoming First-Year Engineering Students In A Summer Bridge Program. Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 20 July 2009. Web. 27 Oct. 2011. <http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-08312009-145520/unrestricted/WALLER_TO_D_2009.pdf>.
Vazquez-Abad, J., Winer, L., Derome, J.. Why Some Stay: A Study Of Factors Contributing To Persistance In Undergraduate Physics. McGill Journal of Education / Revue des sciences de l'éducation de McGill, North America, 32, sep. 1997. <http://mje.mcgill.ca/index.php/MJE/article/view/8378/6306>. Date accessed: 27 Oct. 2011.