Grant to help more people attend college (The Gardner News, Aug. 18, 2016)

GARDNER — The North Central Educational Oppor­tunity Center at Mount Wachu­sett Community College has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to continue providing adults in the region with comprehensive services to successfully transition to college or other postsecondary education.

Mount Wachusett was awarded $236,900 for the first year of a five-year grant totaling $1.18 million. The Opportunity Center, housed within Mount Wachu­sett’s Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce De­velop­ment, was created in 2002 through federal funding, with additional financial and in-kind support from the college.

Designed to provide support for first-generation college students and those with income challenges, Educational Oppor­tunity Center programs are one of the nationwide TRIO programs created through federal legislation more than 40 years ago.

The Opportunity Center program serves 1,000 adults at Mount Wachusett’s Gardner and Leominster campuses.  Two-thirds of the participants are low-income, first-generation college students.

“Using federal funds to partner with local institutions to address the needs of the region is a key tool in ensuring all people have the opportunity to pursue higher education,” said U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-3rd. “The significant return on these investments will have ongoing reverberations for many years to come, as more students are encouraged and able to complete their college careers and enter the workforce with the skills necessary to succeed,” Tsongas said.

“A college education should be within reach for all who seek it,” U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-2nd. “We must ensure that this applies to everyone, regardless of age, income or where they live.  Whether it’s the hardworking parent who put off a college education in order to provide for their kids, or someone who just never thought college was in the cards for them, it’s never too late. With this grant, Mount Wachu­sett Community College will be able to continue the incredible work they’re doing to support lifelong learners and put a college education within reach for all Massachusetts residents.  This is a smart investment that will help to lift families up and grow our whole economy.”

Mount Wachusett President Daniel M. Asquino was pleased with the grant. “We are grateful for the continued support of our congressional delegation for this outstanding program, which has helped thousands of students over the past 15 years and, with this renewed funding, will continue to do so in the years ahead,” said Asquino.  “We also appreciate the many community agencies and organizations that partner with us on this initiative.  We are all committed to student success.”

The Opportunity Center helps participants in the planning and implementation of a student learning plan, which may include high school equivalency preparation, English as a second language courses, technical or professional training and college courses.

The center provides free and confidential client-centered services in English and Spanish that are tailored to the learning needs of each participant, including assistance with applying to the public or private college, university or vocational school of their choice, applying for financial aid, and academic and career counseling.

As a federally funded program, the center assists area residents with their academic and career goals no matter where they want to go to school, whether it is Mount Wachusett, one of the state universities or a career training program. The program also provides services specifically designed for veterans and their dependents, as well as current military personnel.