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Roxbury Community College, UMass Boston receive $300K grant to help close achievement gap

Martin Desmarais
Roxbury Community College, UMass Boston receive $300K grant to help close achievement gap
President of Roxbury Community College Valerie Roberson announces a new grant awarded to her school and the University of Massachusetts Boston to improve student performance, increase graduation rates and close the achievement gap in higher education. The grant is part of $7.5 million to be given out by the state.

Roxbury Community College (RCC) has been given $294,859 by the state to work with the University of Massachusetts Boston to improve student performance, increase graduation rates and continue its overall work to close the achievement gap in higher education.

The money is part of $7.5 million in grants to be given out by the state to improve the success of students in the public higher education system.

The grant, which will fund the efforts of RCC and UMass Boston for three years, will allow the schools to partner on a new coaching and advising program. The program will have three main focus areas, according to officials.

First, RCC will create a team of coaches to work with Madison Park High School in Roxbury and students in the Massachusetts Academic PolyTech Pathway project. The project allows students to take classes in Madison Park’s Nursing Assisting Program and also at RCC’s Nursing Health Science Preparatory Program.

This fall, about 20 Madison Park juniors will begin taking nursing classes at both schools and, in doing so, earn college credits.

Second, RCC and UMass Boston will establish additional coaches and advisors to support the academic progress of students at the community college who plan to transfer to UMass Boston. These students will have access to services such as tutoring and study groups.

Lastly, the grant money will be used to track and assess student performance and keep track of progress once the students enroll.

“What this grant does is it provides a much-needed pathway for students coming from Madison Park to Roxbury Community College, and then for those who want to move on … to UMass Boston,” said Brenda Mercomes, vice president for academic affairs at RCC.

Mercomes said there is a well-established bridge between RCC and UMass Boston. As community college students, RCC graduates in approved programs receive an associate degree and then are automatically admitted to UMass Boston to receive a bachelor’s degree.

She estimated that as many as 60-70 RCC graduates enroll in UMass Boston a year. The goal is to significantly increase that amount, though the school has not set a specific number as a target.

“We really encourage students to transfer to UMass Boston. We are one of the largest feeders into UMass Boston. … We are looking to build that pathway,” Mercomes said. “We hope we will get more and more students that realize that is just a perfect trajectory for them to keep going.”

In Mercomes view, the part of the grant money that will be used to work with Madison Park students to earn credits at RCC will be a big boost to get these students to move on to community college and then on to four-year colleges like UMass Boston.

“So many of these students are first generation students — their parents did not go to college. For them to get three college credits at the end of this year — that is going to be huge,” Mercomes said. “The idea is, in five years we want those students to have a credential — an associate degree or working toward a bachelor’s degree.”

The efforts of RCC and UMass Boston will follow the model established by the Success Boston program. Started by Mayor Thomas M. Menino in 2008, Success Boston aims to double the college completion rate for Boston Public Schools graduates.

Stephanie Janney, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at RCC, said the fact that her school and UMass Boston are coaching students using the model that has already proven successful through Success Boston is critical.

“I think that is what students need. They need to have that support. They need to have that person that is working there with them to help them through process,” Janney said. “The fact that we are expanding on a model that has been successful … that really strengthens what we will be able to do.”

Mercomes believes the grant money recognizes the efforts RCC has made to help Boston Public Schools students to achieve higher education success. “It means a great deal. It is sort of an affirmation of the fact that we are ready to do this really good work for the community. It affirms that we are a college … that is serious and dedicated college and we want to do the very best we can for the community. It is hard to do that without the resources and we have the resources to do that now,” she said.

RCC also plans to partner with Massasoit Community College to co-host a statewide conference focused on strategies for closing achievement gaps among students of color at the state’s 15 community colleges.

The grant given to RCC and UMass Boston is part of Vision Project Performance Incentive Fund established by Massachusetts three years ago to improve the state higher education system in the areas of college participation, college completion, student learning, workforce alignment, preparing citizens and closing achievement gaps.

The $7.5 million awarded to state colleges and universities this year will fund almost 50 new and ongoing projects.

Other notable grants include $508,667 to Bridgewater State University, Bristol Community College, Cape Cod Community College and Massasoit Community College to design a “seamless pathway” for students transferring from the local community colleges to Bridgewater. $375,000 has gone to Framingham State University and MassBay Community College to establish a MetroWest College Planning Center offering pre-college counseling services to at-risk students and $239,334 has gone to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Greenfield Community College, Holyoke Community College and Berkshire Community College to work with regional schools to boost interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning and careers.

The grant for RCC and UMass Boston, as well as all the Vision Project Performance Incentive Fund money awarded this year, was announced at an event at RCC on Sept. 23. In attendance were Massachusetts Education Secretary Matt Malone, Commissioner of Higher Education Richard M. Freeland, UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley, RCC President Valerie Roberson and Madison Park High School Headmaster Diane Ross Gary.