The Bridge Program is an important part of AULA’s commitment to economic justice, providing a jumpstart to higher education for students who may not otherwise have access to college. This comes at a time when access to education has become more difficult than in the past.
Los Angeles has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in the nation, with 19.5% of its population living at or below the federal poverty level. Adults with a bachelor’s degree earn almost twice as much as those with only a high school diploma, yet only 30.2% of all Angelinos have finished college. At the same time, the cost of higher education has tripled in the past decade. This cost hits adult students especially hard. In fact, only seven percent of low-income adult students complete a bachelor’s degree, and approximately 65 percent of low-income students who begin college do not finish. In addition, low-income adults face particular obstacles:
- Low-income adult students receive less financial aid than traditional students
- 64% support dependent children
- 54% of low-income adult students with dependent children are single
- 44% work 35 hours per week or more
While there may be many factors at play in determining whether a student completes her degree, the evidence suggests that more adults today may be unable to overcome obstacles to higher education than in the past. The Bridge Program addresses as many of these obstacles as possible, not only through its revolutionary model of free access but through its curriculum and teaching style. The Bridge classroom engages students as a community of learners working together, rather than a collection of individuals competing separately. Bridge students do so much more than take free classes during their time in the Program.
They help one another when the challenges of life compete with challenges in the classroom. They encourage one another to keep coming to class, despite what most would consider insurmountable odds. In doing so, Bridge students challenge one another, like the hero in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” to test the shadows on the wall and take the risk of seeing the world and themselves in an entirely new light. “Bridge taught me that my whole life I was just seeing shadows,” one Bridge student said. Another said, “I now see that getting a degree is no longer just a fantasy or a dream.”