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Some bridge program directors, like University of Miami's Mike Gaines, keep students on track with lots of talk and advice.
Second, their students are not always accepted at four-year institutions with open arms. Harvard and Princeton currently do not accept any transfer students, says Emily Froimson, director of higher education programs at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, a private organization that provides assistance to low-income students. At highly selective schools that do accept transfers, a shrinking handful come from community colleges. A national study partially funded by JKCF and published in 2006 found that, between 1984 and 2002, the number of transfer students accepted at elite institutions dropped from 10.5 percent of entering students to 5.7 percent.
Those schools that do accept transfer students generally do so simply to make up for attrition rates, and once accepted, students often receive inadequate financial aid, according to Froimson.
“That's not a very proactive approach,” she says.
At the same time, Froimson notes, research has demonstrated that high-achieving, low-income students are more likely to graduate if they attend selective schools.
Chances are, many more will attempt this route as families turn to community colleges to cut education costs for their baccalaureate-bound kids. Indeed, enrollment in community colleges has swelled during the economic downturn, making bridge programs increasingly important for giving students a rich and inclusive educational experience.
One of the most common components of bridge programs is undergraduate research. Program directors say it's an effective way to engage students in science and to help them figure out whether research is for them.
For Dosumu-Johnson, it dramatically altered his goals.
At Orange Coast College, he loved his science classes but hadn't really been introduced to research.
“The teachers were amazing,” he says. They knew the subject matter, they were passionate, and they engaged and challenged students to understand science, not just memorize facts, he says.
Though he developed a deep appreciation for science, Dosumu-Johnson didn't realize that a career in scientific research was even a possibility from where he stood. His community college professors had Ph.D.s, but they weren't active research scientists.
“Most students don't have a perception of what's out there, of what's available in science and math,” says Melanie Gill-Shaw, a coordinator at Eastfield College in Dallas County, Texas.
Community colleges emphasize teaching more than scholarly output. Professors carry heavy teaching loads compared with their four-year counterparts, leaving little time or incentive to do research (see sidebar, page 6). Often, their campuses can't afford maintenance or expansion of lab space, according to an article last fall in the Council on Undergraduate Research journal.
Photo: Jeffery Salter