In February 1992, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and the NIH Office of Research on Minority Health (ORMH) announced the implementation of the Bridges to the Future initiative. To increase the number of underrepresented minorities entering careers in biomedical research, two Bridges programs were established to target two different student populations. The Doctoral Bridge program targets minorities enrolled in colleges and universities offering only Master of Science (M.S.) degree programs in the biomedical sciences, and the Baccalaureate Bridge program targets students in two-year junior or community colleges.
These students are at key transition points with regard to choosing careers in biomedical research. The Bridges programs encourage development of new and innovative approaches to improve the academic competitiveness of these students and to facilitate their transition into careers in biomedical research. The objective of the Baccalaureate Bridge program is to facilitate the transition of minority students at two-year colleges into colleges with baccalaureate degree programs in the sciences. The Doctoral Bridge program seeks to facilitate the transition of students into Ph.D. programs when they complete the M.S. degree.
To aid the transition of students from the first-level institution (the 2-year or M.S. institution), the Bridges programs promote and enhance partnerships between institutions. Each Bridges grant involves a partnership between a grantee institution and one or more partner schools. Participating in each Baccalaureate Bridge program is at least one 2-year institution and at least one 4-year institution. Similarly, each Doctoral Bridge program involves the participation of at least one M.S. and one Ph.D.-granting institution.
The project period for the initial Bridges award is two years and grants are renewable, subject to peer review. Institutions may request up to one year for planning and development before enrolling students. Examples of activities that Bridges programs carry out include the following:
Grantees of the Bridges Program are expected to implement plans to track students' educational and career progress, and additional funds have been made available by NIGMS for this purpose. Grantees have been encouraged to use the NIGMS Electronic Student Tracking and Reporting (E-STAR) system to maintain appointment and educational history records of students participating in the Bridges program.
There are two program outcomes that are particularly relevant to the goals of the Bridges Program: (1) the transition of students from two-year to four-year institutions, or from M.S. to Ph.D. programs (which will be referred to as the transfer of students to the second-level program); and (2) the retention of students in the educational pathway both prior to and after making the transition from one institution to another.
These educational outcomes occur over an extended period of time (more information on the length of time enrolled is presented in the next section). In efforts to assess programs whose outcomes can take several years to develop, it is often the case that measures taken at any point in time will not fully reflect program outcomes which have yet to occur. In this assessment, two analytic approaches were used to examine the effect of curtailed outcome data and to minimize its influence: (1) outcome data are presented separately for the 37 grantees (27 Baccalaureate programs and 10 Doctoral programs) whose initial funding began prior to FY94 (see Table 1); and (2) educational outcomes were assessed for separate groups of students (cohorts) formed on the basis of their first year of involvement in the Bridges program. The cohort analyses provide the opportunity to see more clearly the effects of curtailment and to assess more accurately what the outcomes of a program are when assessed over a longer period of time.
Program Description
The Baccalaureate Bridge Program supports transitional programs between institutions that grant Associate's degrees in the sciences and colleges and universities with baccalaureate degree programs. Funded programs are intended to enhance the academic qualifications of students in the Associate degree-granting institution and to facilitate their enrollment in baccalaureate degree programs.
Under the Baccalaureate Bridge program, 39 grantee institutions had received support, along with 131 participating institutions, by the start of FY 1996. ^{ 1 }Of these institutions, 45 offer the baccalaureate degree and 125 are two-year colleges.
The number of students who have received support under the Baccalaureate Bridge program is 1,592. ^{ 2 }The characteristics of these students are summarized in Tables 3 and 4. The areas in which these students have majored are shown in Table 5.
Outcomes of the Institutional Baccalaureate Bridge Programs
Table 6 provides a summary of the current status ^{ 3 }of all students that have participated in Baccalaureate Bridge programs. As expected, a large fraction of these students (43%) are recent participants and are still attending a 2-year institution. Figure 1 provides a graphic representation of the educational pathways of Bridges students using the data contained in Table 6. In this figure, the shaded boxes indicate the different educational outcomes of Bridges students. Within these boxes are the number of students that are currently in these states and the proportion of the 1592 Bridges students they represent. Along the paths of the diagram which diverge from a single point, the percentage of students taking each alternative path also is provided. For example, among students who have progressed beyond enrollment at a 2-year institution, 53% have enrolled in a 4-year school, 33% have left the system without completing a 2-year degree, and the remaining 14% left after completing the Associate's degree.
Corresponding statistics for the 27 oldest Baccalaureate Bridge programs are provided in Table 7. The students supported by these early grantees account for the majority (82%) of all students who have been supported by the Bridges program, and limiting the focus to these early programs has little effect on the outcome statistics. The remaining sections focus on data from these 27 programs and analyses conducted by cohorts of new students.
Receipt of the A.A. Degree - Although receipt of the two-year degree is not a requirement for successful transfer to a four-year school, some Bridges students (19%) have received A.A. degrees. Among the first three cohorts of Bridges students (those who were first supported in academic years 1993 through 1995 ^{ 4 }), 23% have received a two-year degree.
Transition to a Four-Year Program - Approximately one-third of all students supported by the earliest Bridges programs have transferred to a four-year school. However, as expected, the rate at which students transfer increases with the length of time since they were first appointed to the program. Of the first cohort of Bridges students (67 students who were appointed to the program in the 1993 academic year), 71% transferred to a four-year school. This rate of transfer varies by grantee from 39% to 100%. Not all students have transferred to 4-year institutions participating in the Bridges program. Of the 460 students who have transferred, 22% transferred to institutions not participating in the program.
Similar statistics for later cohorts of students also are provided in Table 7. The effect of curtailed data on the rates of transfer is apparent in this table; the transfer rate drops from 70% among students first appointed to a Bridges grant in 1993 to 33% in 1995. It should be noted that, for Bridges students, enrollments at 2-year institutions often exceed two years. Among students who have left their 2-year institution and made the transition to a four-year institution, the median length of enrollment at the 2-year institution was 32 months.
Table 7 also shows an increase in the proportion of students who leave school without having made the transition from a 2-year to a 4-year institution; from 16% of the 1993 cohort to 39% of the 1995 cohort. This trend also could be an artifact of curtailed outcome data resulting from a time lag between leaving the 2-year school and entering a 4-year institution ^{ 5 }. Among students who have transferred, the median length of time between leaving a 2-year school and entering a 4-year school is about 3 months, but for some students, this interval has exceeded 3 years ^{ 6 }.
More detailed information on the changing status of students in each cohort suggests that data curtailment only partially accounts for the greater numbers of students in later cohorts who have not transferred after leaving their 2-year institution. Figures 2a-c show the proportion of each cohort of students who have transferred and the proportion who have left their 2-year institution but not enrolled in a 4-year institution as a function of the number of months since the start of their cohort year. For each cohort, the proportion of students who have transferred increases with time. The proportion who have left but not enrolled in a 4-year institution tends to increase with time, but decreases occur as students subsequently enroll in 4-year institutions (particularly near the start of each new academic year–i.e., at 12, 24, 36 months).
A comparison of these figures shows that the 1993 cohort of students differs from the 1994 and 1995 cohorts. At any point in time, relative to their first appointment to a Bridges grant, a larger proportion of the later cohorts have left a 2-year school without enrolling in a 4-year institution. Figures 3a and 3b provide a comparison of the proportions of each cohort who have transferred (3a) or left without transferring (3b) as a function of the number of months since their appointment to the Bridges program. ^{ 7 }
Four-Year Degrees Sought - Of those Bridges students who have transferred, retention has been high: 86% are still enrolled and seeking a 4-year degree, and an additional 9% have already received their degrees. The remaining 5% transferred to a 4-year institution but left without a having received a degree. Students' major fields of study after transferring to four-year institutions are shown in Table 8.
Among the first cohort of students who transferred, 28% have received a four-year degree, and 66% are still pursuing their degree. The remainder, 6%, did not receive a 4-year degree and are not reported as currently enrolled in any educational institution.
Degrees Sought Beyond the Baccalaureate - As shown in Table 7, some students have pursued degrees beyond the baccalaureate. However, it is likely to be too soon to establish good estimates of the proportion of Bridges students who will eventually pursue and obtain such degrees. Of the 14 students seeking higher degrees, eight are reported to be seeking masters' degrees, five seeking an M.D., and one an M.D./Ph.D.
Comparison with Other Institutional Statistics - To provide a frame of reference for interpreting data on the educational outcomes of Bridges students, an attempt was made to gather similar information on other groups of students at the same institutions. An effort was made to collect, at each institution, information on all students in the pool from which Bridges students are drawn (e.g., those majoring in fields targeted by the Bridges grant). Institutions were asked to provide for each year, beginning with the five years prior to receiving Bridges grant support and continuing for each year thereafter, the number of new entering students, the number of these students who have received degrees, and the number who have transferred to seek second-level degrees.
Many institutions reported difficulty in obtaining these numbers. Among the Baccalaureate programs, information on minority entrants to 2-year schools was available from at least some of the institutions participating in 11 of the 39 programs. These schools represent about 25% of all participating 2-year schools. For those institutions that were able to provide data, not all could provide this information for all of the requested years, and the groups of students on which statistics were available varied. For example, while some schools were able to provide information at the requested level of detail, other schools were able to provide only aggregate data for the institution's entire student body.
Table 9 summarizes transfer rates calculated from enrollment data provided by the 2-year institutions participating in the Bridges program. (The total number of institutions reporting in each year is shown at the bottom of the table.) The rate of transfer among each cohort of entering minority students varies widely from program to program, as does the extent to which these rates differ from those observed among Bridges students. This variation may reflect both true differences between schools in the rate at which their students pursue higher-level degrees as well as variation among schools in population definitions and methods of gathering and reporting data.
Conclusions
Information collected on the earliest cohort of Baccalaureate Bridges students is generally positive. Although 16% of these students were not successful in making the transition to a 4-year institution, most of the remainder have either transferred or are still enrolled at a 2-year school. Although the quantity and quality of the comparison data is not high, rates of transfer among Bridges students appear to be higher than rates among other students at the few institutions who were able to provide these data. Transfer rates for later cohorts of Bridges students drop dramatically from a level of 70% among the first (1993) cohort. This suggests that data from these later cohorts are curtailed, resulting in transfer rates in these years that are biased downward. It is expected that rates among students appointed in 1994 and 1995 will increase with the passage of time.
However, trend data on the proportion of students in the later cohorts who have left 2-year institutions without enrolling in 4-year schools suggests that the rate of transfer in these cohorts may not reach the rate found in the 1993 cohort. In the 1994 and 1995 cohorts, larger proportion of students have left 2-year schools without enrolling in 4-year institutions. The rates of transfer in the 1994 and 1995 cohorts, shown in Figure 3a, are nearly identical and below the rate of the 1993 cohort. It's not clear whether these differences between cohorts are attributable to less tendency for students in the later cohorts to transfer to 4-year schools, greater latency in enrolling in a 4-year institution, or less complete tracking of later cohorts of students.
Success in completing the baccalaureate degree among those students who have transferred is high, and comparable to the rate found among other minority students in an evaluation of the NIGMS Minority Access to Research Careers Program. At the baccalaureate level, approximately 70% of students are majoring in fields such as the biology, chemistry and biochemistry, and molecular and microbiology. Other major fields with significant numbers of students are nursing, psychology, and other health sciences. It is too soon to develop good estimates of the proportion of these students who ultimately will complete their 4-year degree and how many will continue into graduate programs.
The Doctoral Bridge Program supports transitional programs between institutions with departments for which the master's degree is the highest degree offered and research universities which offer a Ph.D. degree. Funded programs are intended to enhance the academic qualifications of students in the M.S. programs and to facilitate their enrollment in research doctoral programs.
Under the Baccalaureate Bridge program, 19 grantee institutions had received support, along with 35 participating institutions, by the start of FY 1996. ^{ 8 }Of these institutions, 27 offer the master's degree and 27 are Ph.D.-granting institutions.
Compared to the Baccalaureate Bridge program, fewer students have received support on a Doctoral Bridge grant. Among the 19 grants funded by the end of FY 1995, 134 students have received support. ^{ 9 }On average, about 41 students have been supported on each Baccalaureate Bridge grant, compared to an average of about 7 students on each Doctoral Bridge grant. The characteristics of the Doctoral Bridge students are summarized in Tables 10 and 11. The areas in which these students have majored are shown in Table 12.
Outcomes of the Institutional Doctoral Bridge Programs
Table 13 provides a summary of the current status of all students that have participated in Doctoral Bridge programs. As expected, a large fraction of these students (57%) are recent participants and are still enrolled in a master's degree program. Figure 4 provides a graphic representation of the educational pathways of Bridges students using the data contained in Table 13. Due to the smaller number of participants in the Doctoral Bridges program, there is not sufficient data to develop a pathway as complete as that developed for students in the Baccalaureate program.
Corresponding statistics for the 10 oldest Baccalaureate Bridge programs are provided in Table 14. As found in the data for the Baccalaureate programs, limiting the focus to these early programs has little effect on the outcome statistics.
Receipt of the M.S. Degree - Among the first three cohorts of Doctoral Bridges students (those who were first supported in academic years 1993 through 1995), 22 students (31%) have received a master's degree.
Transition to a Ph.D. Program - Approximately 20% of all students supported by the earliest Bridges programs have transferred to a doctoral program (15 students who pursued a Ph.D. and 2 students who pursued a clinical doctorate). However, as expected, the rate at which students transfer increases with the length of time since they were first appointed to the program. Of the first cohort of students (6 students who were appointed to the program in the 1993 academic year), 4 transferred to a doctoral program.
Similar statistics for later cohorts of students also are provided in Table 14. The curtailed outcome data results in a drop in the transfer rate from 67% among students first appointed to a Bridges grant in 1993 to 12% in 1995. (For Bridges students, enrollments at master's institutions often exceed two years. Among students who have left their master's institution and made the transition to a doctoral program, the median length of enrollment at the master's institution was 36 months.)
Table 14 table also shows an increase in the proportion of students who leave school without having made the transition from a 2-year to a 4-year institution; ^{ 10 }from 17% of the 1993 cohort to 50% of the 1995 cohort. This trend also could be an artifact of curtailed outcome data resulting from a time lag between leaving the master's school and entering a doctoral program. Unlike the data used to examine the Baccalaureate programs, the smaller cohorts of students in the Doctoral Bridges program doesn't provide the opportunity for a more detailed analysis of these trends across cohorts.
Doctoral Degrees Sought - Bridges students' major fields of study in doctoral programs are shown in Table 8. Of the 21 Bridges students who have transferred from all cohorts, 3 are no longer enrolled and did not complete the doctoral degree. All three of these students were among the 11 students who transferred from the first two cohorts. Restricting the focus to the first two cohorts of students appointed to Doctoral Bridge grants in 1993 and 1994 (a total of 21 students), in addition to the 3 students who did not complete their doctorate, 5 students left their master's institution and have not entered a doctoral program. This rate of attrition (38%) is below the national average (estimated to be between 50 and 60 percent ^{ 11 }), but it is still too soon to estimate what will be the completion rate of Bridges students in doctoral programs.
Comparison with Other Institutional Statistics - The small cohorts of Doctoral Bridges students, and the unavailability of institutional transfer rates from Bridges institutions do not permit a meaningful comparison of the Doctoral Bridges program outcomes to other institutional statistics at this time.
From the current data, it is difficult to develop good estimates of the eventual outcomes of participants in the Doctoral Bridges programs. The early cohorts of students, and the average number supported on each grant, were small. (Although about 50 to 60 new students have been appointed in each of the last two academic years.) Of the 21 students who were in the first two cohorts of Bridges students, about one-half have transferred to a doctoral program (3 of the 11 who did so left without receiving the doctorate), about one-quarter are still enrolled in a master's institution, and the remaining one-quarter have left their master's institution without making this transition.
Table 1. Baccalaureate Bridge programs included in the study
Table 2. Doctoral Bridge programs included in the study
Table 3. Race/ethnicity of students supported under the Baccalaureate Bridges program
Table 4. Sex of Baccalaureate Bridges students
Table 5. Major disciplines of Bridges students seeking Associates degrees
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Table 6. Summary of educational outcomes of 2-year to 4-year Bridges students, for all years and by academic year of first appointment, 1993-1995
Table 7. Summary of educational outcomes of 2-year to 4-year Bridges students in the oldest Bridges programs (initial funding in FY1992 and FY1993) for all years and by academic year of first appointment, 1993-1995
Table 8. Major fields of Bridges students seeking 4-year degrees
Table 9. Comparison of Bridges students' rates of transfer to historical rates, by grantee. Blank cells indicate no entrants reported in that year
Table 10. Race/ethnicity of students supported under the Doctoral Bridges program
Table 11. Sex of Doctoral Bridges students
Table 12. Major disciplines of Bridges students seeking master’s degrees
Table 13. Summary of educational outcomes of Doctoral Bridges students, for all years and by academic year of first appointment, 1993-1995
Table 14. Summary of educational outcomes of Doctoral Bridges students in the oldest Bridges programs (initial funding in FY1992 and FY1993) for all years and by academic year of first appointment, 1993-1995
Figure 1 . The educational pathways of Bridges students.
Figures 2a-c. Proportion of students who have transferred to a 4-year institution, and the proportion who have left their 2-year school but not enrolled in a 4-year institution, as a function of the number of months from appointment to the Bridges program.
Figure 3a and b. Proportion of 1993, 1994, and 1995 cohorts who transferred to 4-year schools or have left 2-year institution and not enrolled in 4-year school, as a function of number of months from appointment to the Bridges program.
Figure 4. The educational pathways of Doctoral Bridges students.
^{[ 1] }Five of these 39 grants are no longer active, and eight new programs started at the end of FY 1996.
^{[ 2] }Two of the grantees included in the study did not provide data on any students. One of these grantees cited difficulty in recruiting students for the program. Neither of these grantees are currently funded.
^{[ 3] }"Current status" will be used to refer to the students’ status as reflected in the E-STAR database as of late September, 1996.
^{[ 4] }Each academic year begins on July 1 and extends through the following June. An academic year is referred to by the calendar year in which it ends. For example, students appointed in academic year 1993 includes students appointed during the period July 1, 1992 through June 30, 1993.
^{[ 5] }Students reported as no longer enrolled will include a combination of former students who are no longer enrolled and students whose current educational status is unknown.
^{[ 6] }There are a few students with the longest intervals who, according to the educational history records, left their 2-year institution prior to the start of the Bridges program. These students apparently participated in the Bridges program only at the baccalaureate level.
^{[ 7] }In Figures 2a-c,3a,and 3b, the data from one grant were excluded due to an apparent absence of student tracking.
^{[ 8] }Three of these 19 grants are no longer active, and one new program started at the end of FY 1996.
^{[ 9] }One of the grantees included in the study did not provide data on any students, citing difficulties in recruiting students for the program. This grantee is not currently funded.
^{[ 10] }Students reported as no longer enrolled will include a combination of former students who are no longer enrolled and students whose current educational status is unknown.
^{[ 11] }Committee on Biomedical and Behavioral Research Personnel, National Research Council, Biomedical and Behavioral Research Scientists: Their Training and Supply. Volume I: Findings, Washington DC: National Academy Press, 1989.