Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Political Science


Tom Smith

Committee Member

Suzanne McCray

Second Committee Member

Valerie Hunt-Whiteside

Third Committee Member

Brinck Kerr


Bridge, College, First-year Experience, Graduation, Retention, Transition


As the demand for college degrees has increased, college enrollment has grown significantly, and economic forces have applied greater pressure on the higher education environment to produce more degrees and better post-graduation outcomes. Many public colleges and universities have felt these pressures distinctly because of their state funding environments and the specific expectations that exist within them. While college aspirations and attendance have broadly improved, achievement gaps persist along cultural, generational, and socioeconomic lines. In an effort to navigate and negotiate institutional goals, public expectations, economic needs, and educational ideals, institutions engage in diverse approaches to recruitment and retention. Academic bridge programs are one type of intervention used to help incoming college students relatively at risk of attrition to transition to college. This mixed-methods, multiphase study evaluates one year of a new comprehensive bridge program serving first-generation and low-income freshmen from the Arkansas Delta region at the state’s flagship university. Retention and academic performance of participants and eligible nonparticipants were quantitatively analyzed and compared to assess the program’s effectiveness. The participant experience was explored using quantitative and qualitative methods to capture their assessment of the program’s helpfulness and their personal reflections about it.

Findings indicate that the bridge program served students who were relatively disadvantaged as incoming college students even compared to similar students more at-risk than the general student, and that the program was associated with a very small positive effect on one-year retention. More and deeper investigation is needed to fully assess the influence of the program and whether it constitutes a cost-effective strategy for improving diverse enrollment and retention.