Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help address educational disparities. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Supporting a smooth transition: Summer bridge programs aim to ease students’ transition into college. They promote postsecondary success by providing resources to help students build the academic and social skills needed for college.

  • Introducing students to college life: Summer bridge programs are two to eight week, on-campus orientations that aim to approximate college life. Typically, they are administered by the hosting college or university and take place during the summer before students begin their first postsecondary term.

  • Promoting students’ academic success: Many summer bridge programs provide students with academic supports to prepare them for college-level coursework. These may include academic advising; training in skills necessary for academic success, like time management and study skills; and accelerated academic coursework.

  • Connecting students to non-academic resources: College campuses typically have a range of resources that address non-academic factors related to college success. Bridge programs often familiarize students with these resources (e.g., library, student health services, advising programs) through tours, presentations, and more.

  • Building social capital: Summer bridge programs provide meaningful opportunities for students to build relationships with one another (e.g., social outings) because of the importance of on-campus support networks to student success.

  • Targeting programs to specific groups: Most often, summer bridge programs are targeted toward students who are at higher risk of not completing college, such as low-income or first generation students. However, some programs are open to a broader set of students, such as those for students in a particular academic area (e.g., a STEM-focused bridge program) or those open to all students at a college or university.

Cost per Participant

Multiple studies with less rigorous designs suggest that summer bridge programs are a promising strategy for increasing college access and readiness.

  • A 2021 meta-analysis of summer bridge programs for STEM students found that participating students had higher overall GPAs and retention rates after their first year of college than students in the control group.

  • A 2016 research synthesis identified limited evidence that summer bridge programs increase degree completion rates.

  • Partner with high schools: To raise awareness and recruit students into summer bridge programs, partner with local high schools, especially college counselors. The partnership can include holding information sessions, distributing checklists on ways to prepare for the transition to college (or other actionable materials), and holding on-campus enrollment events.

  • Mirror the college academic experience: College-level courses generally have more difficult content, a faster pace, and different norms than high school courses. By modeling academic programming after typical college courses, bridge programs can better prepare students for the school year.

  • Familiarize students with the logistics of college: Bridge programs typically work with students who have limited exposure to college life. To bridge this knowledge gap, colleges and universities should provide students with information on housing arrangements, food plans, course registration, and tuition payments and other fees, along with clear points of contact for questions.

  • Facilitate transitions to school-year supports: While summer bridge programs can help acclimate students to college, ongoing supports throughout the school year are often essential. Summer bridge programs should create opportunities to connect with advisors, mentors, and other on-campus resources to better position students for success once classes begin.