What Happens When a Community College and a High School Team Up to Boost Student Achievement?

Students, Teachers, and Faculty are Empowered to Succeed

Jun 10, 2019 · 4 min read

Transitioning from high school to college is difficult for any student. The rigors of college coursework, in addition to the social, emotional, and other changes that come with such a big shift, can present major roadblocks to success. But when students aren’t adequately equipped with the fundamental skills and content knowledge they need for entry-level courses in their freshman year, these roadblocks may feel insurmountable.

For community college students, this isn’t uncommon: according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 30 percent of first-time full-time American students at two-year colleges who entered in fall 2013 got their degree within three years. Taking more time to obtain a degree can bring extra stress and extra debt. If we aim to provide all students with equitable opportunities to attend (and complete) college, they must be prepared for rigorous learning.

Some high schools are addressing these gaps by partnering with local community colleges to adequately support high school seniors as they prepare to enter higher education. While these partnerships go by many names, they are commonly known as academic bridge programs, and they have the potential to influence a larger shift in the way K-12 and higher education institutions work together.

An “academic bridge program” is an umbrella term for a wide variety of programs that likely won’t look the same in different schools — but most importantly, they must involve a close partnership between a K-12 school, likely led at the secondary level, and a local community college. Many academic bridge programs focus their collaborative efforts on math education, because many students are placed into remedial math courses in community colleges, incurring extra time, extra debts, and feelings of inadequacy. But, the concept of the program could be applied to any subject area, or implemented district-wide.

Here are some of the most important benefits of an academic bridge program:

  • They empower educators in high schools and colleges to employ a unified curriculum.
  • They have the potential to reduce drop-outs in high school and college.
  • Teachers may feel more supported and have a clearer vision of what success should look like for each individual student.
  • Perhaps most importantly, these programs prepare students for college and allow them to obtain their degree faster, with more confidence, and with high levels of academic achievement.

Although not every academic bridge program looks the same, there are a few key elements that together can ensure a successful program, no matter the specific structure or goals of the program. If you’re a district leader wondering how to effectively partner with a local community college, consider how the following could be integrated into your program:

  • Leadership. A strong academic bridge program relies heavily on the leaders of both schools. Leaders need to be able to navigate the complex bureaucratic obstacles that accompany a partnership between separate institutions while maintaining and communicating a clear vision of success for the students served.
  • Community Engagement. It’s also important to remember that the stakeholders of an academic bridge program extend beyond students, faculty, and staff. Parents and families should be looped into communications to understand the purpose of the program, their students’ goals, and receive support from the high school and college in dealing with complex paperwork or digital registration work that could become a barrier to participation.
  • Student-Centered Goals. There are a variety of stakeholders, processes, information systems, and resources that must coexist in an academic bridge program. To ensure all of those voices are united in the same goal and to ensure alignment in processes, leadership should keep student-centered goals at the forefront of all communication plans. It’s also important to seek out student voices from both institutions to iterate the program according to student needs.
  • Technology. In addition to strong curricula, leadership should consider the ways in which technology can enhance students’ learning experience as well as the process of student data collection and class placement. Adaptive learning technologies can be particularly effective in personalizing instruction for classes of high school students that will be entering college at vastly different levels, or for classes of college students that enter the course with varying skills.

We recently had the chance to sit down with educators from three different learning communities, both K-12 and community colleges, to discuss their academic bridge programs. During our interviews, they revealed the challenges they’ve faced in kickstarting their programs, the obstacles their students work to overcome, and more features that they believe are key to a successful program.

To read these interviews and to learn more about academic bridge programs, find the full article here:

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.


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We apply the science of learning to create innovative educational solutions and content to improve outcomes from K-20 and beyond.

Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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