Each year, one in five graduating high school seniors who intend to move on to postsecondary education or training don’t arrive on campus in the fall. In a phenomenon known as “summer melt,” this equates to over a million students each year who get lost in the transition from high school to college.

A summer bridge program provides a throughline of support to students during the summer months to ensure they are able to navigate the transition. An effective summer bridge program encompasses academic (e.g. English and math instruction; tutoring), navigational (e.g. connection to on-campus resources; support with completing key actions; advising on course of study and career alignment; campus tours; financial aid and literacy), and relational components (e.g. cohort-based social activities; mentorship). The program can be hosted at an institution, system, or state-level, all of which require strong partnerships between K-12 and postsecondary systems. They can be institution-specific or institution-agnostic, and can be offered virtually, in-person, or in a hybrid model.

How does the strategy create more equitable access and opportunities?

Students of color, low-income students, and first-generation students are the most likely to be impacted by summer melt. The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges these students face, with the year-to-year decline in undergraduate enrollment being twice as high for Black students, three times as high for Indigenous students, and five times as high for Hispanic students as their White peers. It is incumbent on K-12 and postsecondary systems to build integrated systems of support to ensure a “warm hand-off” during the summer months. Any summer bridge program should specifically target outreach and support to students facing the most significant challenges.

What outcomes or benefits are associated with the strategy?

What are the budget implications for implementing the strategy?

The cost of implementing a summer bridge program is variable, depending on existing resources and the scale of the program. The primary cost is personnel (e.g. course instructors, tutors, facilitators, advisors, etc.); other costs might include communications resources (e.g. marketing and design, mailed collateral, paid ads, etc.), curricula (if purchasing from an external vendor), course credit, and events (e.g. food, supplies, transportation, etc.). Some states (such as Indiana and Texas) also offered financial incentives for students and advisors for meeting program benchmarks and enrolling at a postsecondary institution in the fall. Based on recent statewide models, costs can range from $200-700 per student.

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What are the estimated costs for implementing the strategy?

  • Vendor-provided curricula in Math and English (e.g. NROC EdReady): $11 per student (recurring)
  • Personnel costs (e.g. instructor, advisor): $150 per student (recurring)
  • Communications materials: $1,000-$1,500

How will the strategy limit significant recurring costs while ensuring long-term sustainability?

Districts and institutions should aim to leverage their existing staff and structures to implement the summer bridge program to minimize costs. High school counselors can support recruitment and advising of students in the spring, institutions can leverage faculty, advisors, and tutors to continue support through the summer months. Additionally, once the foundational elements of the program are designed in their first year (e.g. curricula, communications materials, etc.), staffing of the program and any financial incentives for participation should be the only recurring costs in subsequent years.

What is the anticipated timeline for launching the strategy?

To build a high-quality summer bridge program from the ground up takes between three and six months. Districts and their college partners should aim to begin planning no later than the January before the summer they intend to launch the program. This will ensure sufficient time to design and refine the program; communicate to principals, counselors, and faculty; and identify and recruit students to enroll.

What internal and/or external capacity (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, training, etc.) is needed to launch the strategy? To monitor and sustain it?


  • Assign a core team of (4-8) district and institutional staff to lead the planning and implementation of the summer bridge program. The core team should meet at least weekly during the planning phase.
  • Select (and/or hire) and train staff to serve as instructors, tutors, and advisors.
  • Identify data, process, and infrastructure to track recruitment and student outcomes.
  • Develop a communications and marketing toolkit.
  • Provide training and resources to counselors, principals, faculty, and other key stakeholders on the summer bridge program.
  • Develop curricula (in-house or through external vendor).

Monitor and Sustain

  • Track data on recruitment and student outcomes, and use to refine strategy.
  • Develop plan for sustainability and continuous improvement.
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What are the first 3-5 steps to take to implement the strategy?

  1. Identify the curricula.
  2. Identify the structure, content, and staffing for advising.
  3. Set eligibility criteria, and identify a list of students to target.
  4. Determine whether or not to offer incentives.
  5. Define the process for students to enroll.
  6. Develop communications materials (for students, families, counselors, etc.).

What are potential challenges for implementing the strategy?

  1. Challenge: Recruiting students to enroll
    • Solution: Develop a compelling, multi-channel communications campaign; leverage high school counselors to conduct direct, in-person outreach to eligible students and families; offer financial incentives and/or course credit to students for participating to off-set opportunity costs of summer employment and other priorities.
  2. Challenge: Data sharing across districts and institutions
    • Solution: Develop data-sharing agreements between districts and institutions (or, if at the state-level, between the K-12 and higher education state agencies) to facilitate data sharing.

What are models of schools, districts, and/or organizations that are successfully implementing this strategy?

What are some additional resources for districts/states interested in implementing this strategy?