By Daniel M. Asquino
The economic health of New England depends on an educated workforce. In today's world a college education is essential for success. In order to prepare students for success in college and the workforce, deep and meaningful partnerships between K-12 schools and institutions of higher education are essential.
Mount Wachusett Community College was recently recognized, along with Fitchburg Public Schools, with a 2014 Gateway Cities Innovation Award by the MassINC Gateway Innovation Institute for our long-standing GEAR UP partnership.
GEAR UP is one of 18 K-12 partnership programs at MWCC, where we work with our local educators and their middle and high school students to help them become college and career ready. K-12 partnerships create crucial pathways to education that are essential to bolster the economy and intellectual capital of Massachusetts.
Our partnerships with local districts began in 1992, helping a small group of students graduate from high school and enroll in college.
Over the past two decades, these efforts have grown to serve more than 4,000 students annually through partnerships with a dozen school districts. MWCC's K-12 programming has been recognized for its innovation and we have shared our model and strategy with other colleges as they build similar partnerships.
Mount Wachusett has pursued and nurtured these partnerships to serve predominately low-income and potential first-generation college students. Today, the Division of Access & Transition, which oversees our K-12 programs, has over 50 full- and part-time employees — most of whom work directly in our partner schools with their middle and high school students to help them become college and career ready.
The diversity and range of services provided reach those needing remediation and basic skills to complete high school to those seeking enrichment and challenges above the level offered in their local school.
Longstanding college access programs, including the federal TRIO programs GEAR UP, Educational Talent Search, and Upward Bound Math and Science, provide a wide range of support, from in-school workshops and tutoring to residential summer dual-enrollment programs.
Additionally, a variety of programs prepare students for the MCAS exam, so they can graduate high school and excel at college-level exams such as the SAT, and Accuplacer.
Our transition programs further expand students' options. MWCC established the first Gateway to College drop-out recovery program in Massachusetts in 2006, which now serves more than 100 at-risk students per year.
Since its inception, 187 high school dropouts have been reengaged in education and have received their high school diploma. In addition, MWCC opened one of the first innovation schools in Massachusetts in 2010. The Pathways Early College Innovation School allows highly motivated high school juniors to simultaneously earn their high school diploma and an associate degree at little to no cost to the student.
These programs help individual students develop a belief in their college-going ability, identify role models to assist in creating post-secondary goals, plan realistically to achieve success, and successfully overcome the hurdles to college completion.
Additionally, these programs have demonstrated success. For example, GEAR UP has helped Fitchburg High School achieve its highest four-year graduation rate in recent memory — 82.8 percent — which exceeds the average for comparable urban schools in Massachusetts.
Similarly the college enrollment rate of low-income students served by MWCC's Upward Bound Math and Science (67 percent) and Educational Talent Search (73.7 percent) programs exceed the statewide rate of college enrollment for low-income students of 63.8 percent. Last year our dual-enrollment partnership programs awarded 4,280 college credits, the equivalent of 67 associate degrees, at little cost to the students.
Not only do these programs offer unparalleled opportunities for underserved students, they support the Department of Higher Education's newly released Vision Project report, "Degrees of Urgency" and its "Big Three Completion Plan" to boost college completion rates, close achievement gaps, and attract and graduate more students from underserved populations.
We are fortunate that so many regional K-12 superintendents, principals, administrators and educators have welcomed us into their schools and their classrooms to work collaboratively. It is in this spirit that I encourage all of Massachusetts higher education to pursue and continue to grow K-12/college partnerships for the benefit of our students and our economy.
Daniel M. Asquino, Ph.D., is president of Mount Wachusett Community College.
Source: Worcester Telegram