Two college-readiness programs give incoming first-year students a boost

August 20, 2023

Bridge to BU with trolley
More than 40 incoming Bellarmine students who experienced pandemic learning loss are now poised for college success following two summer bridge programs held on campus.
Students in the inaugural Bridge to BU program, who were conditionally accepted to Bellarmine, took three courses worth seven credit hours total: English 100 (3), Math 100 (3) and BU 101, a one-credit-hour course that focused on core tools for academic success. Upon successfully completing the program, they were eligible to enroll for the fall 2023 semester.
The Student Success Academy, in its second year, provides incoming first-year students who have been accepted to Bellarmine with skills that will help them make a successful transition from high school, such as time management and study skills. These students earned three credit hours and received a $1,000 stipend when they completed the program.  
Both four-week programs, which were free to students, were held on campus July 5 through Aug. 4. Students lived in residence halls and received three meals per day. Bridge to BU is funded by grants from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and the C.E. and S. Foundation; the J. Graham Brown Foundation supports the Student Success Academy. 
Bellarmine will provide students from the program with additional support from academic coaches and the Dean of Students Office during their college careers.
President Susan M. Donovan said the summer programs were especially helpful for first-generation students, whose families might be less familiar with the college environment. “Having been a first-generation college student myself, I think that giving our students a little boost, particularly given the pandemic, can have a big impact,” she said.
She also praised the full-time faculty and staff who devoted time in the summer to teaching the courses. “I think it's Bellarmine at its best.”

Bridge to BU

Jon Blandford Bridge to BU“These last few years of educational disruption have been difficult, especially for students who experienced it in high school,” said Dr. Jon Blandford, director of the Bridge to BU program and a faculty member in the English Department.
“We thought an intensive four-week bridge program would help better prepare students, and we wanted to give them a chance to get familiar with campus before there are 3,000 students here. We wanted to connect them with offices and personnel across campus and help them make some social connections, because that is essential to a successful college experience. And it feels like we met those goals.”
Thirty-three of the 38 students who completed the four-week Bridge to BU program earned a GPA of 2.0 or better and are eligible to enroll at Bellarmine this fall—an 80 percent pass rate.
The average improvement on the writing assessment in the English course was 10 percent, Blandford said. In math, 91 percent of the students improved their scores, with an average improvement of 15 percent. Before Bridge to BU, only one student placed above College Algebra; by the end of the program, five students did.
“Given how well-prepared and eager to learn so many of these students are, I’m pleased that we were able to create a meaningful pathway for them to access Bellarmine,” Blandford said. “What a win for them and for Bellarmine.”              
Olivia Williams of Louisville, who plans to study criminal justice and political science, said Bridge to BU provided a good introduction to Bellarmine, a refresher on math skills and tips on how to write college papers. “I also left with a whole group of friends,” she said, “and now I know what dorm life is like.”
Twenty-one percent of the Bridge to BU students arrived from out of state, with eight states represented.
One of those students, Christian Mattern of Erie, Pennsylvania, intends to major in Computer Science and participate in cross country. He said he chose Bellarmine because he wanted to see a different part of the country and had a positive experience when he visited campus.
The most valuable part of Bridge to BU, he said, was the experience of being on campus early and getting to know people. “When the fall semester starts, I won’t be someone who came from seven hours away that nobody knows,” he said. “I know what each building is called and where the various classrooms are. I’m confident that I won’t be stressed.”

Student Success Academy

During the Student Success Academy, 16 students worked on time management, organization, academic reading and writing, and study skills, said Student Success Retention Specialist Chelsea Brown.
Thirteen students enrolled in IDC 101: The Successful College Student, while three students who were dually participating in the Early Entry Business Program took Accounting 101 and/or Business 103. Students also participated in academic seminars specific to their chosen majors.
The Academy is open to incoming students who have a high school GPA of 2.75 or lower or a composite ACT score of 20 or below. Priority admission is given to students of color, first-generation college students and students from limited-income households.
“Our students did great academically, with the average GPA after summer classes at 3.3,” Brown said.
She said the program provides incoming students with a valuable introduction to college life before the semester begins.
“The students are now familiar with campus, have made some friends, and most importantly, they have multiple faculty and staff who are already on their team when they arrive in the fall,” she said.
“I think the other valuable part of the program is that they have a better understanding of the academic requirements for college. They took a class for credit, so they know what it's like to do real college-level work. Now there will be no surprises about the amount of time, dedication and work it takes to succeed because they've already started practicing.”

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