InnovationSnapshot: The Graduate Bridge Program

Department of Mathematics, University of Southern California

We are currently developing a summer Graduate Bridge Program as a means of addressing the preparation gap that many students face while transitioning from their undergraduate education to graduate school life.

The issue we are trying to address

The students in our doctoral program come from a variety of domestic and international backgrounds and it is often difficult to gauge what they really know. Our basic graduate courses assume knowledge of a certain body of undergraduate mathematics, so it is imperative that students possess this knowledge. Too often, we belatedly discover a serious deficiency in a student's background only when that student starts to show real signs of struggle in our basic first-year courses.

How we know that this is an issue

Too many students get off to a bad start and never recover. Many appear to have solid backgrounds on paper, but they don't perform well in basic courses and are unable to pass qualifying examinations on the first try. These students often feel frustrated at the end of the first semester and convinced that mathematics is hopelessly difficult.

The innovation that is intended to address the preparation gap

We hope to procure funding from our administration to launch the Graduate Bridge Program. We already have a small amount of private funding. Students will come two weeks before the semester starts, fully supported with room and board, to be assessed by faculty, bond together and review some basic material, if necessary. This will be in an intensive, but fun environment.

Why we selected this approach

We feel that is the only way to ensure that students have the proper background for our graduate courses. Upper division courses in mathematics vary widely in level and content, and one only really knows if we speak to the students at length. What better way than to have them on campus for an intensive encounter with members of the faculty and each other?

The intended effect of this innovation

by Wayne Raskind, Professor and Department Chair

We expect that the Graduate Bridge Program will reduce our dropout rate and shorten the time to degree. It will make for better esprit de corps among our current students. It will allow us to use our resources much more effectively and possibly leverage more, so that we can attract higher quality students as a result of the greater success and popularity of our doctoral program. It will energize us to be similarly proactive in other matters.

The data or evidence that will demonstrate the effect of our innovation

Exam scores should increase in our basic first-year courses and it will contribute to our having a higher percentage of students who complete our program. At present, fewer than 50% of the students who enter our Ph.D program actually complete that degree. We aim to increase the completion rate to at least 75% for the class to enter in 2005. For these students, time to degree should be reduced from about 5.3 years to less than 5 years.

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