Pittsfield, Mass. — Berkshire Community College (BCC) is pleased to announce it has received an allocation of $869,377 from the state legislature as part of a $16 million fund distributed to all 15 community colleges in the Commonwealth. The allocation is earmarked for the Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services (SUCCESS) Fund, which focuses on vulnerable populations. The funding, which was requested through the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges (MACC), covers the period through June 30, 2022, but will likely be renewed if the program proves successful.
The majority of BCC’s SUCCESS funding will be spent on staffing, including hiring Assistant Dean of Student Affairs/Director of SUCCESS George Ambriz as well as four SUCCESS coaches and administrative support. Remaining funds will be spent on student engagement initiatives and related expenses.
According to MACC, the goals of the SUCCESS Fund project are:
- Expand/scale up existingstudent support services that are proveneffective
- Serve a specific cohortof students
- Show significant, demonstrable student success outcome improvement (e.g., retention, graduation and transfer) in the targeted cohort population
SUCCESS is designed to maximize collaboration among the Commonwealth’s community colleges, identifying best practices and bringing those practices to scale rather than creating new initiatives, explained Adam Klepetar, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. “We’re really good at working with marginalized populations, but now we have an amazing opportunity to figure out exactly what works, what doesn’t, and how to serve our students better. We can share everything from project plans to budgets with our community college colleagues across the Commonwealth.”
Areas of improvement identified
BCC has identified three major areas in which to improve: completion of a college-level math course within the first year, particularly by students of color; reducing the instances of students who earn zero credits in the first semester; and increasing the likelihood of students returning to school after completion of the first semester.
While the SUCCESS program is beneficial for all, it is primarily designed to serve vulnerable student populations, including first-generation, low-income, minority, disabled and LGBTQ+ students. At BCC, approximately 500 students will participate in the program. Each student will be assigned a coach, who will focus on academic skills, socio-economic support, and housing and food insecurities. Each coach will manage a caseload and track interactions with their students. Field trips to four-year colleges and financial literacy workshops will be among the student engagement initiatives offered.
Klepetar serves on the SUCCESS Leadership Team, a collaboration among MACC, the Commonwealth’s Department of Higher Education, and the 15 colleges participating in the program. “We want to connect students with the resources they need to keep them on track so that they can meet or exceed their goals,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to create safe places and pathways for all students, but particularly those underserved in higher education. SUCCESS focuses on reducing equity gaps and racial justice.”
A Paradigm Shift
The problem of inequity in higher education has persisted for decades, if not hundreds of years, Klepetar said, but he sees a “big shift” in the way colleges think about serving students. “We are becoming proactive instead of reactive. We are cognizant of the fact that it’s our job to design our programs in a way that allows us to reach out to students before problems happen. That way, they can take those big first steps, those risks, that open the door to success in college and in their careers.”
Part of that shift, Klepetar asserts, is creating an environment of trust – not just for students, but for those responsible for funding. “The legislature has put a lot of resources into the hands of community colleges across the Commonwealth. They trusted us enough to invest in us,” he said. “It’s a smart investment, and I have a great sense of confidence that we can do this,” he added.
That trust is intensified by the collective sense of urgency to right the wrongs of major disparities in access to higher education, said Klepetar, noting that communities of color are significantly less likely to attain associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and beyond. “If we don’t figure out these issues of inequity, we’re creating even bigger problems down the road,” he said. “We’re looking at students holistically and identifying what prevents success, particularly accessibility. When you offer true access, you open a door to a world that people would otherwise not have access to.”
About Berkshire Community College
Berkshire Community College (BCC), situated on 180 park-like acres, is located four miles from the center of Pittsfield in the heart of the beautiful Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. Founded in 1960, BCC was the first community college established in the Commonwealth. As a public, fully accredited community college, BCC strives to place higher education within reach of all residents of Berkshire County and beyond, offering associate degree and certificate programs to approximately 2,000 enrolled students per year. The mission of BCC encompasses five core values: integrity and engagement; innovation; diversity and inclusion; service; and sustainability. Visit BCC online at www.berkshirecc.edu.