Reinventing Freshman Year to Ensure Student Retention

Wes Moore is a change agent. He plans to ensure that students of color will not be denied a college education because they don’t have the resources they need to finish school.

The celebrated social entrepreneur, Rhodes scholar, best-selling author, former combat officer in Afghanistan, Obama campaigner, and Wall Street investment banker launched BridgeEdU last year to help solve this challenge. “We’re looking at a confounding problem faced by most colleges and universities,” he says. “We’re doing a better job of getting kids through high school, but in higher education there’s this unbelievable drop off, particularly among students of color, first-generation students, low income students, and military vets.”

After examining the statistics, Moore concluded that “we don’t have a college completion crisis per se; what we have is a freshman year crisis. That’s when schools lose the lion’s share of their students.” Nearly 30% of students drop out during or after their first year of college, usually because of cost, academic underpreparedness, and social fit. So Moore decided to basically reinvent the freshman year, to provide an on ramp for students to maximize their chances of graduating. “We want to help students do a better job of completing on time,” Moore says, “but also help colleges better succeed at fulfilling their mission.”

The thrust of BridgeEdU evolved out of the three years Moore spent producing his latest book, The Work ($25; Spiegel & Grau), which tells about his own search for meaning but also relates the stories of “people who have found where their passion overlaps with the world’s greatest needs,” he says. “They start figuring out a way to address that dynamic and begin doing what they’re supposed to be doing, what their heart is calling them to do.”

“Doing the research, examining the paths of these different people, gave me a sense of clarity and motivation for the type of work I wanted to do,” Moore says.

His initiative Champions of #The Work, which has its own Facebook page, celebrates “the people who did not wait for permission to follow their passion. It celebrates people who are willing to figure out how to make plan A work,” Moore says. His book includes a resource guide of more than 100 “workers,” organizations and initiatives that include America’s Promise Alliance, Junior Achievement, My Brother’s Keeper, and The Eagle Academy Foundation.  Now offered at the University of Baltimore and the Community College of Baltimore County, BridgeEdU provides an altered framework of the college freshman year. Its scholars are directed to take no more than two classes at a time so they can develop subject mastery. Another goal of the program: helping students avoid taking developmental courses, which cost the same as courses that offer academic credit but do not get students closer to attaining a degree.

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