Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 19, 2012

$100,000 'Dream' grant for NECC

A $100,000 grant from Walmart will help Northern Essex Community College meet the needs of students from Andover and other Merrimack Valley communities, it says.

"The United States is falling behind other countries on important measures such as the number of adults with college degrees," said Lane Glenn, NECC president. "This grant will help us continue our efforts to retain and graduate students."

Northern Essex Community College was selected as one of 15 community colleges across the country to win a $100,000 Walmart PRESS for Completion grant. The grant program, sponsored by Walmart Foundation and administered by Achieving the Dream — a national nonprofit leading the nation's most comprehensive non-governmental reform network for community college student success, will enable Northern Essex to better engage faculty (especially adjunct faculty) and staff in important campus-based reform efforts and ensure that more students have a better chance of staying in school and obtaining a market-valued credential, according to the school.

Northern Essex was competing with 50 eligible Achieving the Dream Leader Colleges for this grant.

"Northern Essex has met high standards of practice and performance and is well-positioned to tackle one of the toughest community college reform challenges our nation is facing: engaging more full-time and adjunct faculty and staff in student success efforts," said Rachel Singer, vice president of Achieving the Dream, Inc.

Michelle Gilliard of the Walmart Foundation explained why her organization is funding this initiative, saying, "The fastest on-ramp to a better life is a college credential. For many students, the barriers to completion are daunting, and engaged faculty and staff members can make the difference between students dropping-out or persisting through"

Northern Essex has been participating in Achieving the Dream, a national effort to close the gaps in student success, particularly among minority and low-income students, for the past five years.

Funding and support from Achieving the Dream has allowed Northern Essex to carefully review and measure current practices and develop new initiatives to help improve student outcomes such as retention and graduation rates.

As a result of its participation in Achieving the Dream, the college has created math tutoring centers in Haverhill and Lawrence; introduced supplemental instructors in challenging courses; developed a College Success skills course; expanded and improved academic advising services; and made several new policy changes with an eye toward student success.

"These efforts are already showing results," says Glenn. As one example, Glenn sites the 25 percent increase in students who successfully completed Basic Algebra II, a developmental course, and then College Algebra or College Algebra & Trigonometry (college level courses). The success rate rose from 49 percent in 2006-07 to 64 percent in 2009-10.

"With the PRESS for Completion grant, the college will expand the number of faculty and staff involved in initiatives such as the College Success Seminar, Supplemental Instruction, and an evolving Early Alert system to help new students. We will also research challenges to student academic performance and strategies to address those challenges," according to Bill Heineman, vice president of academic affairs.

Northern Essex is the only state college located in the lower Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts.