Can Summer Bridge Programs Narrow the “College Readiness Gap”?

Far too many community college students start their postsecondary education without the skills to succeed academically. Often referred to as a “readiness gap,” the problem is defined as the gap between students’ academic skills upon enrolling in college and the skills they need to be ready for college-level studies. As shown in the figure below, about 75 percent of incoming students at two-year colleges grapple with this readiness gap, and many of them must take developmental courses before they can begin to earn credits toward a degree or certificate.

Summer bridge programs, which typically occur in the summer between high school graduation and fall matriculation in college, offer students accelerated, focused learning opportunities that can help them acquire sufficient knowledge to reduce the need for remediation and better prepare them to succeed in college. Yet, despite the increased popularity of summer bridge programs, little empirical research on their outcomes or impacts has been conducted.

The Texas Developmental Summer Bridge Program, which MDRC is evaluating as part of the National Center for Postsecondary Research in partnership with the Community College Research Center and others, was designed to upgrade students’ English and math skills before they start college. Implemented at eight colleges and universities, the program provided intensive remedial coursework for recent high school graduates over four to six weeks during the summer of 2009. The program incorporated pedagogical strategies, taught skills to prepare students for the social and academic rigors of college, and provided financial incentives for successfully completing the coursework. MDRC’s evaluation seeks to determine whether the program helps reduce the need for developmental education, whether it helps students make a successful transition to college, and whether it boosts freshmen achievement and persistence rates. Early findings will be published later this year.

MDRC is also evaluating the “Getting Ready for Success” project at the University of Washington-Tacoma, in which low-income, college-bound students will attend a bridge program between their junior and senior years of high school; receive advising services focused on college readiness and knowledge; will be encouraged and supported to take dual enrollment courses (that is, courses in both high school and college) and/or rigorous academic courses during their senior year of high school; and will receive cash incentives for attending the program, applying and matriculating into college, and meeting other academic benchmarks. A second summer bridge program will be offered to students who still need developmental education before starting college. Results from this study will be available in 2014.

Document Details

Publication Type
Issue Focus
February 2011
2011. “Can Summer Bridge Programs Narrow the “College Readiness Gap”?.” New York: MDRC.