Building Bridges to Success: Unveiling the Impact of a Summer Program on GPA and Student Retention

Reference:  Harris, R. L., & Vick, B. (2023). Effects of a summer bridge program on student grade point average and retention. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice.

Summarized By: Ariel Ervin

About the Study: 

In response to escalating financial demands, dwindling enrollment, and stagnant completion rates, higher education institutions have intensified their focus on programs that offer support and access to students (first-year seminars, academic coaching, college readiness & success courses, etc.). Summer bridge programs (SB) are a prime example. However, although SB programs have the potential to help bridge the gaps in education, many researchers have primarily concentrated on their qualitative aspects (program design, best practices, and participant feedback). This study utilized a dataset of students from a rural, four-year university in Pennslyvania to compare the GPA and persistence outcomes of two groups of students in financial and academic need (those engaged in SB and those from similar backgrounds that did not).

Main Findings:

  • SB program participants were significantly more at risk for dropping out during their first year because of various pre-college factors. While students in the comparison group had similar backgrounds as the SB students, the SB students were more likely to come from a high school with a lower mean academic score, lower graduation rates, and lower attendance than other high schools in the state.
  • Although there were no significant differences in GPA performance after controlling for differences, there was a strong association with persistence among SP students. While approximately half of the SB students had a GPA below 2.0 in their first year, their persistence rates from the fall to spring and first to second year were about the same as the comparison group.
  • The program’s promotion of academic and social support (small cohorts, relationship-building activities, intentional interactions, and courses) was instrumental in boosting SB students’ persistence and reducing the likelihood of dropouts and significant grade drops.
  • Female and older students had better first-year grades when the researchers controlled for background factors. Findings also show that high school GPA is still the strongest predictor of college GPA.
  • Given that economic disadvantage in home school districts is linked to lower first-year GPAs, it’s not surprising that SB students have lower GPAs during their first year compared to the comparison group.

Implications for Mentoring: 

Overall, findings highlight the potential SBs have in bolstering student persistence, especially for those at risk of leaving college prematurely. Not only do they provide support to incoming students who need it the most, but they also establish more sustainable revenue streams for colleges and universities. The SB program examined in this study is a prime example. Although it served seventy-five students in the summer of 2020, if it expanded its services to one hundred fifty students, the projected revenue would yield approximately one million dollars per semester, assuming a seventy percent retention rate. Given the fact that higher education institutes are enrolling more students who are either first-generation or academically or economically disadvantaged, they need to strategically allocate resources to make services accessible to more students (i.e., shifting focus from generating revenue to serving and retaining students, developing a more informed faculty/staff, and cutting costs for students). Researchers are encouraged to conduct more longitudinal studies to understand the long-term impacts of SBs and explore what specific program components contribute to persistence.

To read the full study, click here.