May 2008

Recognizing commitment and hard work: Academic Bridge

Successful alumni, especially those who graduated some years ago, often say "I don’t think I would have been admitted to UT Dallas today." Given the fact that UT Dallas has typically had the highest average SAT score for entering freshmen of any public university in Texas, some of these successful alumni might be right!

Intelligence and ability drive success in college and in life, but talent manifests in different ways for different people, and at different times for us all. Some of our State’s most brilliant college-age students excel in high school and score very well on their SATs. The typical UT Dallas freshman fits this profile. But some of Texas’ brightest students with exceptional creative talents or leadership skills either don’t test well or are late bloomers.

At UT Dallas, we recognize that talent and leadership come in many forms. In addition to intensive recruiting of high school valedictorians, we work hard to reach out and find the diamond in the rough – the kind of student with talent, leadership skills, creative genius, and in some cases less-than-outstanding early academic credentials.

Cassandra Gandara (center/right), the first Academic Bridge Program student to complete law school and pass the bar, celebrates with her family and Dr. George Fair (center).

Our leading expert in this search for unrecognized talent is Dr. George Fair, dean of the School of General Studies, and the director of the Academic Bridge Program. The Bridge Program recruits students who rank well within their class, but who may have missed the chance to take a full college preparatory curriculum. On paper, these students do not meet the entrance requirements for UT Dallas. But, based on individual interviews and personal references, they are admitted the summer before freshman year through the Bridge program. In screening, Dr. Fair looks for a special spark, drive, or influence in the person’s life that indicates passion and commitment to succeed.

Dean Fair and his group shepherd these students through their college years, serving as surrogate family and trusted advisors. During the initial summer enrollment (the "bridge" from high school to college), scholarships allow the students to live on campus and learn fundamentals that make for college success: managing a weekly budget (including a food allowance!), attending class regularly, engaging in University activities and turning to mentors and tutors for support. These Bridge students later mentor new freshmen.

Academic Bridge enrolls about 140 students a year. Most come from urban neighborhoods in the Dallas area and are the first in their families to attend college. Thirty-seven percent are African-American, 29 percent, Hispanic. Given that only 10 percent of Hispanics earn a degree by age 29 and that only 9 percent of low-income students earn degrees by age 24, it is remarkable indeed what Bridge students achieve:

  • 80 percent return as sophomores with a 3.0 GPA.
  • 70 percent graduate — an average well above the university, state, and national averages.
  • 45 percent major in engineering, science or business management.

Most remarkable to me is that the graduation rate for Bridge students is competitive with the overall graduation rate for the best universities in the State. This proves that dedicated students, with a little help from others and a lot of determination within, can succeed at rigorous academic institutions.

Enrolling in college is a rite of passage, as much an emotional leap as an intellectual one, fraught with anxiety for those unaccustomed to the culture of higher education. UT Dallas’ Academic Bridge Program is a model of how to span the transition from high school potential to college achievement, even among those for whom success is not pre-determined. We are proud to play a transformative role in the lives of these students, helping to create both their futures and the future of Texas.

About This Newsletter

The President's Viewpoint is a periodic newsletter distributed to a select group of alumni, friends, faculty and staff. It comes from the desk of Dr. David E. Daniel, President of The University of Texas at Dallas, and provides the ultimate insider’s view on the news and concerns of the university.