A transitional summer program is helping first-year students from historically underserved backgrounds realize their potential.

Scroll down button  

California State University campuses open their doors to more than 477,000 students every fall, but the college experience begins a little earlier for Educational Opportunity Program​ (EOP) students like incoming freshman Helbert Luis. The statistics major participated this summer in a transitional program called Summer Bridge that is helping advance student readiness and improve retention.

Luis took part in California State University, Northridge's six-week residential Summer Bridge​ program in 2022, during which time he lived and studied on campus. He says the experience built up his self-confidence and instilled in him a sense of community he has never felt before.

"Where I come from [in Los Angeles] there aren't a lot of people going to college to make their lives better," Luis says. "In this program I am surrounded by people who have gone through a lot of the same experiences I have and want to succeed with me. I'm grateful to be here because it's not every day you have people there for you."

Though his parents encouraged him to pursue a career and escape the minimum wage job cycle many in his community find themselves stuck in, he says he often felt isolated and unmotivated.

"My parents were always working, so I didn't really have anyone there to ask me if I needed help with homework or extra tutoring," he says. "I felt alone at home, and it made me wonder: 'Who am I doing this for?' But coming here has changed my perspective."

Incoming CSUN student Helbert Luis "In Summer Bridge, I am surrounded by people who have gone through a lot of the same experiences I have and want to succeed with me."​   Helbert Luis, incoming CSUN student 


EOP was created in the late 1960s to provide access and support services for first-generation college students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. Today, there is an EOP at all 23 CSU campuses serving more than 31,000 students. CSU applicants can learn about EOP and apply to the program while simultaneously applying to their desired campus through the university's online application portal, Cal State Apply.

“EOP serves California's most underserved population,” says CSUN EOP Director Shiva Parsa. “They have at least a ten-year history of being low-income, and many of their parents or guardians never graduated from middle or high school. This shows us they may not have been raised with a lot of resources and may need more skills building academically, socially and emotionally to be better prepared for the rigors of college.”

The CSU EOP improves access to higher education for these students by providing a comprehensive program of support services including academic advisement, tutoring, learning skill services and personal, educational and career counseling.

It also offers a free Summer Bridge program that provides students with an opportunity to adjust and transition to the university environment prior to the start of the fall term and introduces them to an extensive educational support network. While strengthening math, English and other academic skills, the program also allows participants to form a strong sense of belonging to the university.

"Summer Bridge is critical to student success because it helps them feel more prepared and connected to our campus," says California State University, Long Beach EOP​ Director Eduardo Leyva. "In addition to promoting academic preparation, it builds a community that improves overall student well-being."​

CSUN lecturere Glenn Omatsu leads Summer Bridge students in a discussion. Glenn Omatsu, a lecturer in CSUN's department of Asian American Studies and the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), leads Summer Bridge students in a discussion.


Strengthening transitional programs to improve college readiness among first-time students has been a strategy implemented by the CSU as part of its Graduation Initiative 2025, launched in 2016 to increase graduation rates, eliminate equity gaps in degree completion and meet California's workforce needs.

Most campuses require all EOP students to complete Summer Bridge before their first term, though the length of time and delivery format varies. Programs range from one week to six weeks and students can choose from residential, commuter and virtual options, depending on the campus. And, campuses like Fresno State University, for example, have recently expanded eligibility to include transfer students as well as first-time freshmen.

EOP staff help students resolve any issues with their financial aid, secure housing and employment for the fall term and facilitate in-depth presentations and workshops about campus resources like the library, health center, basic needs program and counseling.

"​EOP students are less likely to reach out when they have questions or need help," Parsa says. "During Summer Bridge, we introduce them to representatives from each of the campus's support services so they can build a relationship with them before they even start fall classes."

In some Summer Bridge programs, participants complete academic units that help them brush up on math and English skills. CSUN Summer Bridge students, for example, are enrolled in a general education (GE) course, part of which they complete in the summer and continue in the fall.

This is part of their EOP linked learning curriculum in which students remain with the same cohort for summer, fall and spring in a learning community for writing. Employed at other campuses as well, grouping students in an EOP cohort helps them make connections and increases their chances of persisting to their second year.

Fresno State student Samuel Chheng "The people you meet in Summer Bridge will always come back into your life to support you, whether they're your classmates, best friends or staff members." ​ Samuel Chheng, Fresno State student

During the program, students also learn important skills like budgeting, time management and self-discipline, as well as how to use their student portal and CANVAS, a learning management system used by many campuses as a supplement to in-person and virtual course material.

At Fresno State, students in the program are enrolled in a CANVAS course and engage in structured activities, assignments, quizzes and discussion board posts. The course material contains an orientation module and six learning modules that expose students to information about academic advising, major and career exploration and connections for success.

Fresno State EOP Director Mui Vuong says the primary goal of Summer Bridge is to make students feel like they are part of the university and build a support network they can lean on when confronted with a challenge.

"EOP staff members believe in our students and are incredible advocates for them," Vuong says. "We call it an EOP family because we never give up on them. If they do fall behind, they know who they can turn to for help getting back on their feet."

Fourth-year Fresno State psychology major Samuel Chheng reflects: "The most valuable thing I got from Summer Bridge was the social networking. The people you meet during the program will always come back into your life and help support you, whether they're your classmates, best friends or staff members."

Chheng, who is also pursuing a minor in Asian American Studies, participated in Summer Bridge in 2019 and says the experience inspired him to be an EOP peer mentor and become a high school counselor after graduation with the goal of helping more Southeast Asian students in Fresno pursue higher education.

"Summer Bridge and EOP offered me so much, I wish every student could participate," Chheng says. "I was nervous about attending Fresno State because I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I wanted to major in, but I learned so much about myself in the program and it even helped me decide my career path."

Vuong says participation in Summer Bridge and the subsequent support from EOP leads to higher retention and graduation rates. As of fall 2020, the first-year retention rate for Fresno State EOP students who completed Summer Bridge is 84 percent, compared to a campus-wide first-year retention rate of 76.9 percent. Additionally, the six-year graduation rate for Fresno State EOP regularly admitted students who completed Summer Bridge is 71.9 percent compared to a campus-wide six-year graduation rate of 56.6 percent.

CSUDH Summer Bridge students at a "Fun Friday" bowling event. CSU Dominguez Hills Summer Bridge students participate in "Fun Friday" activities like bowling to help them form bonds and increase their sense of belonging to the university.

making connections​

In addition to teaching academic and life skills, EOP staff plan fun activities like movie nights, talent shows, potlucks and more to help students make friends and form lifelong connections. At California State University, Dominguez Hills, Summer Bridge students take part in Fun Fridays, which involve themed, off-campus events like hiking, roller skating and bowling.

While specific activities vary by campus, Summer Bridge programs statewide have the same goals and learning outcomes, and their mission is clear: To build a community for EOP students that will support them throughout their entire college career.

"Summer Bridge celebrates first-generation students and encourages participants to be their authentic selves by creating intentional space for them to learn and support each other," says San Francisco State University EOP Director Oscar Gardea. "Doing so creates a strong community of learners who are engaged, connected and believe in each other and themselves."

For many students, the impact of the program can be felt long after they experience it. Recent San Diego State University EOP​ graduate Fabiola Moreno Ruelas says participating in Summer Bridge led to opportunities to be a peer mentor and to advocate for those who come after her.

"I met wonderful people in the program, and I was fortunate enough to have a support system so early on," Ruelas says. "Those six weeks propelled me to do so much throughout my time at SDSU, including getting involved in student government and eventually representing EOP at the highest level as the Vice President of Systemwide Affairs for the California State Student Association​."

​Listen to what Cal State Long Beach Summer Bridge students and staff have to say about the program.​


Learn more about the Summer Bridge program at the CSU Educational Opportunity Program website.