Charting new paths: GCC helps adults return to college

  • VanDeCarr

  • Williams-Fortson

  • Greenfield Community College’s main campus. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/19/2019 11:28:07 PM
Modified: 7/19/2019 11:27:53 PM

GREENFIELD — There are as many reasons some people don’t go to or finish college as there are those people — some never finished high school, some took a couple of courses but never finished college and some took other paths, to name a few.

Teresa Williams-Fortson of Greenfield said she had tried to take a couple of classes online, but there was no support, so she got discouraged and quit.

“I had some time on my hands, but I was unsuccessful in trying to do it all by myself,” Williams-Fortson said.

Dorothy VanDeCarr, coordinator for the Bridges to Success program at Greenfield Community College, said with the help of a $62,632 grant from the state Department of Higher Education, the local school is giving adults like Williams-Fortson, who didn’t get a college degree earlier in life, the opportunity to do so now.

“This is the program’s first year — it’s a pilot program,” VanDeCarr said. “The goal is to give adult learners a pathway to college, to achieve entrance and to pursue a certificate or an associate’s degree.”

Statistics from the Department of Higher Education indicate that 17 percent of all Massachusetts residents ages 25 to 65 have some college credit but no degree, and most are not currently enrolled in college. Many other adults aspire to jobs that require a college degree or certificate, but are not yet ready for college-level work.

VanDeCarr said earning certificates or degrees and possibly moving on to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher will make people more effective in their workplaces, or help them enter the career they’ve always dreamed about.

“It will provide them — and some, their children — with a higher standard of living,” she said.

VanDeCarr said GCC is currently working with The Literacy Project, Center for New Americans and others to recruit new adult students. She said she hopes more agencies will join in the effort as the program grows and continues.

The pilot began several weeks ago and runs for nine weeks. She said in the fall, GCC will begin recruiting adults for the second go-around in the spring.

“There are 11 students in this first class,” she said. “They range in age from 17 to early 60s. We currently have students from El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Haiti and locally.”

VanDeCarr said students spend the first two weeks in Bridges to Success “boot camp,” where they are introduced to the GCC community and campus with visits from professors and administrators. The new students engage in discussions about what to expect, who they might be dealing with, what they might choose for a major, different classes they’ll be expected to take as part of their degree program and more.

She said they also visit the college’s Wellness Center and Diversity and Inclusion Center, and get a tour of the library, horticultural program gardens and nursing simulation lab.

“I also spoke with them about how they define success, team building, personal obstacles they face and some possible solutions, and their personal values,” VanDeCarr added.

Once the first two weeks of introduction are over, each student chooses his or her first class, and all they have to do is attend it. VanDeCarr said support from her and others continues through the end of the summer.

“The Bridges to Success is not only here to help students navigate getting into GCC as a student in the fall, but build their self-esteem and self-confidence,” she said.

The Bridges to Success grant pays for students’ time in the program, including their first class — students this summer are taking English, public speaking and a developmental-level college reading course, all of which prepare them to enter college in the fall.

Williams-Fortson chose public speaking. She said it’s really helping to build her confidence.

“All I needed was some help getting started, and Bridges to Success, along with Dorothy, has given that to me,” Williams-Fortson said. “I’m so excited. I get help and backup — Dorothy calls me and asks how things are going.

“I’m setting an example for my two grandsons (ages 10 and 13), too,” she said. “We want them to go to college, and they’re so excited for me.”

VanDeCarr said many of the students who are and will participate in the program are first generation college-goers or recently attained their HiSET, which used to be called GED. She said some took colleges courses in the past, but haven’t been in the classroom in a while and want to return.

She said students have been invited to college workshops throughout the summer, free of charge, which will give them the opportunity to explore different paths they may want to take.

VanDeCarr said GCC looks at the “whole” student when helping and guiding them. For instance, before a student enters the Bridges to Success program, the college looks at his or her academic history, financial situation and psychological needs.

“That just leads to greater success for each student,” VanDeCarr said.

She said transportation, child care and language seem to be the greatest barriers for students. GCC doesn’t provide child care, but does provide bus passes to students for the length of the program.

“This is a work in progress,” she said. “The end goal, at minimum, is that all of these students attain a certificate or degree. I’d love to see many of them go on to a four-year college and beyond.”

Williams-Fortson, who said she read about the program in the Greenfield Recorder, wants to earn a certificate in addiction studies so she can counsel people struggling with addiction.

“I can’t say enough about Bridges to Success,” she said. “It offers so much to nontraditional students like me, to all students, actually. It’s such a nice program. I finally have the encouragement and support I need.”

To learn more, contact Dorothy VanDeCarr at 413-775-1468 or email her at Alternatively, call Dean of Humanities Leo Hwang at 413-775-1221 or email him at

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269 or

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


Copyright © 2019 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy