With excitement and pride, Greenfield Community College announces its recent approval by the Massachusetts Department of Education as a Designated Early College. Partnering with Hopkins Academy — Hadley’s public middle/senior high school and the seventh oldest school in New England — GCC will be able to offer new opportunities for young students to explore the impact and value of a college education.
Aimed at reducing education equity gaps across the state, the early-college program is aimed at increasing college completion rates among students of color, first-generation college students and students from low-income backgrounds. Blending elements of high school and college, the program provides robust support and clear pathways to and through college coursework. As early as middle school, participating students receive the opportunity to better understand the college trajectory, make informed decisions about their academic future, and gain exposure to a variety of career opportunities.
“This program gives students the opportunity to be thinking about their future and how school connects with their career from a much younger age than has traditionally been done,” says Anna Berry, GCC’s Chief Student Affairs Officer. “Coming up with a plan and identifying who this program can serve was an incredibly collaborative process with the Hadley public schools.” In order to apply for designation, the two institutions came together over the course of several months to develop pathways based on the needs of their students and the workforce development trends in the region.
Anne McKenzie, Superintendent of Hadley Public Schools, says that the reason Hopkins was so interested in working with GCC and the early college initiative is that both are invested in equity. “At GCC, Diversity and Inclusion doesn’t just guide the work, it is the work,” she comments, “They have a clear understanding that in the absence of that work, nothing else really matters.”
So far, 7% of Hopkins students are enrolled in the early college program. “Can we make sure that students who have been historically underrepresented in higher-education not only have access to college, but that once they are accepted, they have a meaningful experience?” asks Superintendent McKenzie. “Can we help them use their time and their financial resources effectively?”
Initial data from the Massachusetts Department of Education says YES. The Early College Joint Committee granted the first designations in 2018. The inaugural 2018 class of 12th grade Early College participants were majority Black and Latinx — students for whom college enrollment and completion disparities are especially high and persistent — and enrolled in college at a rate that was 20 percentage higher than their state peers. Collectively, the students received thousands of transferable college credits, representing a significant savings of time and money for them and their families.
Superintendent McKenzie reminds us that “We are in a time when no one needs to go out of their way to shore up the status quo.” She celebrates the early college program, GCC and the participating students for being persistent in breaking the cycles that have inhibited the growth and prosperity of so many.
Says Anna Berry, “What I hope to come out of this is that more young people will see a college education as within their grasp regardless of whether they are the first in their family to go to college or how their early high school years have gone — that they will see the connection education has to more expansive opportunities in their adult lives.”
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