Federal grant benefits GCC’s low-income, at-risk students 

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

Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2019 6:31:27 AM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College has received the fourth installment of a five-year grant that is helping it serve low-income and at-risk students who want to earn a college degree. 

The local college was awarded a $1.6 million Title III grant in October 2016 by the U.S. Department of Education. The last installment will be paid next year. The grant is part of the Strengthening Institutions Program. 

The grant helps integrate academic success coaching and career exploration into a structured first-year experience for those students. Many of those students, according to the college, are undecided about their majors, careers and whether they can succeed. The students helped under the grant are in at least one developmental-level course.

“We have a great track record of supporting all of our students, but the hard-won success of our most at-risk students are particularly gratifying to witness,” Dean of Students Anna Berry said. “We have many academic and student support resources available to students. However, this grant has allowed us to focus our efforts and tie several of these programs together. This cohesion makes the student experience easier to navigate and thus, more accessible.”

The College and Career Compass program was developed during the first two years of the grant. It offers new, current and returning GCC students specialized advising focused on individual needs, academic skill and career exploration, as well as a peer mentoring program through which students can share their experiences with each other or in groups.

Berry said the college will hone the program over the last two years of the grant.

“During the first two years, it was like a pilot program,” Berry said. “We were figuring things out — what would work and what wouldn’t — so we took a wide approach. Now, we have a great idea of what works and how to best meets all of our students’ needs.”

Berry said the program also started with a small staff and will most likely be adding to it. 

“We know what our at-risk students need, but we also can use some of the strategies we’ve learned for all students,” she said.

Those who enter the Compass program must be matriculated into GCC, so they either have to have a high school diploma or a HiSET, which used to be known as a GED.

The college provides monthly academic coaching workshops that cover things such as study skills, using apps and technology and avoiding procrastination. It also offers two one-credit elective courses at no cost to the student in the program. One focuses on academic strategies for college success, while the other helps students explore different careers and plan for four-year college transfers. Each student also receives a free one-week refresher course in math.

“Developing the Compass program has been rewarding and transformational, personally, for the college and for our students,” said Tonya Blundon​​​​​​, interim director of advising, career and transfer. She is also coordinates the Title III grant activities. “We know that many students start their college journey without a clear sense of where it will lead, which can be a challenge to persistence.” 

Blundon said students who are the first in their family to go to college, or who place into developmental-level classes, are most at risk for not continuing their education.

Since the Compass program’s inception, 265 students have been served — 179 students during the first three years and 86 last year. Berry said GCC hopes enrollment continues to grow this fall. She said students are accepted into the program right up until the fall starting date. Participants range in age from graduating high-schoolers to nontraditional students returning to college years later.

“Over the last three years, our small Compass team has learned a lot about our students’ needs and developed tools to support and streamline our advising efforts,” Blundon said. “As we enter the next academic year, I look forward to sharing our efforts and tools across the college with everyone who works closely with our students. Having the resources and opportunity to help these students find success — to show them they can get there from here — has an impact that we can see each semester.”

For more information about the program, call Blundon at 413-775-1170 or email her at: blundont@gcc.mass.edu.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269, or afritz@recorder.com.

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