New academy aims high to prepare minorities for college

Recent ACT research shows college readiness rates to be two to four times lower for underrepresented minority students compared to white students.

Dr. Charles W. Donaldson Summer Bridge Academy

This lack of high school preparation for college-level coursework undermines students’ potential for success by placing them behind from the start, according to Darryl McGee, assistant vice chancellor for educational, student services and student life and associate dean of students at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

To remedy this problem, officials in the UALR Student Services Success Initiatives program are introducing a new three-week residential program targeting minorities that is aimed at eliminating the need for math and English remediation.

The Dr. Charles W. Donaldson Summer Bridge Academy, limited to 40 students, will provide an academically intensive-learning environment for improved ACT scores and college preparation.

The academy, which runs from July 14 through Aug. 3, requires participants to remain on campus for the full three-week period, enjoying free room and board through the generous funding of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

“We want these students to not only have the opportunity to raise test scores, we want them to connect to the campus and people and have the opportunity to build relationships,” McGee said.

Research shows that the immersion experience is beneficial and can provide academic support and intervention before it is too late.

When students devote time solely to non-credit remedial coursework, they not only pay more tuition, they also lose potential income with the delay in college graduation. In addition, the costs to institutions to remediate unprepared students results in losses to the state in income tax revenues and available funding for postsecondary institutions.

New academy named for retiring vice chancellor

McGee said naming the academy for Dr. Donaldson was a no brainer.

“He is the ‘father’ of all of the programs we have implemented to ensure success for minorities and other students, and he should be honored for that.”

“All of this is in line with his vision of student success,” he said.

Donaldson, who is retiring as vice chancellor for educational, student services, and student life at UALR after 40 years, implemented the African-American Male Initiative, African-American Female Initiative, and Hispanic Initiative – all are programs under  Student Services Success Initiatives. The programs, which also provide mentors for the students, have had real success, according to McGee.

Parent involvement is key

An interesting component of the academy is the requirement that parents agree to attend the Parent Information Session on the Sunday before it kicks off.

“When we get parents here, they’ll understand the importance of teamwork for their students’ success,” said McGee. “They will understand that we are in this together.”

The academy represents the first intensive residential program to be offered over the summer to improve remediation rates before the start of the fall term, but is not the first time UALR has offered help with college preparation for enrolled students.

UALR’s Student Support Services, one of four TRiO programs at UALR, also offers help for first generation, low-income, or disabled students who meet certain requirements concerning ACT test scores and high school grade point averages. Students enroll in up to two courses over the summer, but are not funded to stay on campus and tuition is not covered.

For more information on the residential Dr. Charles W. Donaldson Summer Bridge Academy, call Amber Smith at 501.569.8713 or email

For information about the non-residential Student Support Services Summer Bridge program, call 501.569.3280.

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