Royal Bridge Program Offers Credits and College Readiness to Incoming Students

Now entering its third year, the program is demonstrating a positive impact on students—including those who’ve historically been underrepresented in colleges.

By Monique Kleinhuizen '08, GS'16, contributing writer

November 01, 2023 | 1 p.m.

Students in Royal Bridge Program, Summer 2022

Bethel has made significant strides in providing early college options and pathways for students. Bethel’s Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program expanded to include high school juniors and online students. PSEO enrollment this fall outpaced traditional first-year students for the first time, and there are additional dual enrollment, college in the schools, and high school partnerships designed to expose even more students to college early—in ways that make sense for their contexts and needs.

“So many students are gaining that early college experience. And that’s great!” says Associate Provost Julie Finnern. But, she explains, this phenomenon has also highlighted the gap between students who are thinking and preparing for college years in advance—and some who can’t do so. “Those students with zero college credits historically graduate at a lower rate than students who enter Bethel already earning college credit.” 

This widening gap is part of the rationale behind the Royal Bridge Program. Piloted in 2022 with a subsequent Strategic Growth Award from the Bethel Foundation, this innovative program allows students to enroll in Introduction to the Bible—a hallmark course most first-year students take—the summer before they begin at Bethel. Through an intentional, on-campus, residential experience—followed by two weeks of asynchronous learning—they form relationships with other students, staff, and faculty and get to know the campus and its resources. By the time Welcome Week comes around, participants have gained three college credits and many tools for thriving as Bethel students. Their first three semesters, they also engage in regular touchpoints with fellow program participants and have access to special campus resources and gatherings.

Stan Thompson GS’21 is Director of Vocation, Pathways and Partnerships in the Office of Career Development and Calling. He’s acted as interim coordinator of the Royal Bridge Program, and has noticed early, positive impacts of the program. In a survey of program participants in the first two years, he shares, “many indicated greater awareness of campus services and offices. Students self-report that they’ve had significant growth in study strategies, feelings of belonging, and understanding available resources.” 

Though there have been only two cohorts so far, they show higher-than-typical retention rates and promising success as students. And while the Royal Bridge Program is not exclusive to first-generation students, Pell Grant-eligible students, or historically underrepresented groups—like students of color—there tends to be overlap with these groups. Because of its low cost and convenient timing, it’s an especially appealing option for students who, for various reasons, haven’t had the opportunity to pursue college credits or invest in their college readiness.

“We’re looking at this group of students who are so capable—have so much to offer—but whose experience lies outside of college credits. We want to help them make the transition to a system where—though there are supports—you have to know how to access those supports,” Finnern says. 

This year, new leadership—and more intentional partnerships with the marketing and admissions teams—aim to make the program even more visible to incoming students.

“We want to grow the Royal Bright Program so it’s not just a pathway for students who are accepted to Bethel—but a reason to come to Bethel.” -Associate Provost Julie Finnern

— Associate Provost Julie Finnern

What Students Are Saying

Lexi Israelson ’26 is a biology major in Wind Symphony and Pre Med Club. She gives admissions tours and works as an usher in Benson Great Hall. She heard about the benefits of the program—which included getting a class finished early and gaining connections on campus—and immediately signed up. “What has been most beneficial was gaining early connections with faculty, having a real college class experience, gaining study skills, and having the opportunity to get to know campus,” she says. “This program has changed my perspective as a new college student.” 

Htee Moo ’27 is a political science major, part of the Asian Student Alliance (ASA), and a Peer Mentor. She heard about the Royal Bridge Program through the Fight For Something scholarship program for refugee students. “The most beneficial part of the program was the class. We talked about the Bible as well as our feelings and experiences with God,” she says. “Before the school year started, I was scared that I wouldn't make friends…but this program, and meeting these awesome people, has shaped my thinking. Everyone was nice, with a friendly face and smile—they care deeply about you and want the best for you."

Get a head start at Bethel

The Royal Bridge Program will give you an opportunity to prepare for college, earn college credits, and start building a community on campus—so you’ll be set up for success from day one.

Learn more