MDRC in the News

Bridge Programs Get Big Results, But Little Support

Gotham Gazette


Governor Cuomo’s $175 million workforce development proposal, announced earlier this year, promises major new investments in the skills-building programs that New York needs. With industries like healthcare, tech, and construction facing shortages of skilled workers, the governor’s plan can help expand access to opportunity while boosting the economy.

But for millions of New Yorkers who lack math and literacy skills—including 2 million adults without a high school diploma and 2.3 million who speak English less than very well—gaining entry to effective workforce programs will first require boosting their basic skills. That is the idea behind bridge programs, which help adults with limited formal education acquire the skills they need to transition into training and higher education…..

…..Where the model has been implemented, the results are impressive. Bridge programs work for people with limited opportunities and no time to waste. Research has found that bridge programs are effective for students with significant barriers to employment, including those with a reading level as low as the 7th grade.

New York’s leading example is the Bridge to College and Careers program at LaGuardia Community College. Through coursework that focuses on healthcare, science, or business, the program provides meaningful context for the math and literacy skills students need to pass their high school equivalency exams…..

…..A 2013 study by MDRC showed that students in LaGuardia’s bridge program were twice as likely as their peers to pass the high school equivalency exam and three times as likely to pursue a postsecondary degree. The program has proven so effective that other states are using it as a model, notably a new bridge program at Northeast Wisconsin College. But even as Wisconsin imports LaGuardia’s pioneering program, none of New York State’s 35 other community colleges have been funded to offer bridge programs of their own…..

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