Newswise — Furman University has received a $3.4 million gift from an anonymous donor to support the school’s nationally recognized Bridges to a Brighter Future, a college access and academic enrichment program for Greenville County high school students whose potential outdistances their circumstances.

The commitment includes $400,000 to be paid over the next three years and $3 million in the form of a bequest. The gift will allow the Bridges program to expand its support beyond high school and provide its graduates with an array of services after they enroll in college.

“While 100 percent of our Bridges students graduate from high school and over 93 percent enroll in college, our college retention and graduation rates are not as notable,” said Tobi Swartz, director of Bridges to a Brighter Future. “In order to fully realize the program’s mission, we must continue to support these students into their college years. This generous gift will allow us to do that.”

The program’s new emphasis is called “Crossing the Bridge.” The support services will include an intensive, one-week summer program preceding college enrollment and year-round advising and support for the students during the first year of college. “This gift will support a very meaningful community program, one that has already benefited hundreds of Greenville County students,” said Furman president Rod Smolla. “The donor has a real appreciation for what the Bridges program has managed to accomplish, and this additional financial support will have a huge impact on the program’s future success.”

According to Mike Gatchell, Furman’s vice president for development, the donor has a particular interest in the Bridges program and its efforts to support talented high school students who face challenges outside the classroom.

“The donor’s late husband received the sort of special attention in high school that changed the direction of his life and led to a highly successful career,” he said. “Because Bridges to a Brighter Future is dedicated to recognizing students’ talents and encouraging them to pursue their dreams, she felt it was an extremely worthwhile program to support.”

Bridges to a Brighter Future has received numerous awards, including the 2009 Excellence in Summer Learning Award from the National Center for Summer Learning. It also has been featured in Essence Magazine and on the U.S. Department of Education television program, “Education News Parents Can Use.”

Swartz said the Bridges program benefits Greenville County high school students who “demonstrate both academic and leadership potential, but are challenged by circumstances that may prevent them from fulfilling their potential.”

The year-round program includes a four-week, summer residential experience on the Furman campus, as well as year-round tutoring and support provided through the Bridges Saturday College.

Selected for the program as ninth-graders, the students are nominated by teachers and counselors. They remain in the program throughout their high school years. There are a total of 75 students in the program this school year.

Bridges to a Brighter Future began in 1996 as a four-week summer program through a gift from Mamie Jolley Bruce. In 2006, the program expanded to include a formal year-round academic support through Bridges Saturday College, funded by the Jolley Foundation. Now the program will include “Crossing the Bridge,” an additional component to help students once they enroll in college.

“Our students go to college with big dreams,” Swartz said. “However, the financial and emotional challenges at home go with them, too. Just getting to college is the first hurdle. Succeeding in college is just as important. This tremendous gift will allow us to assist students in fully realizing a college degree, while also ensuring sustainability of the program and building capacity for further growth and expansion.”

For more information, contact Furman’s News and Media Relations office at 864-294-3107.

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