On October 24, the North Central MA Early College Summit brought together educators, students, and civic leaders for a day of discussion and advocacy. The Early College partnership between Mount Wachusett Community College, Fitchburg State College, Gardner High School, Leominster High School and Center for Technical Education, and the Sizer School creates a pipeline to higher education for students in North Central Massachusetts.
Student panelists, lead by facilitator Dr. Keith Williamson of Fitchburg State University were Maureen Del Villar (Fitchburg High School, Project Healthcare), Kaissy Obeng-Kwakye (Leominster High School, Project Healthcare), Molly Murphy (MWCC Gateway to College and Fitchburg State College Graduate), Karl Siniawski (Gardner High School, North Central MA Early College Academy), Tremaine Pinnock (MWCC Gateway to College Graduate and Fitchburg State University student). The panel expressed their gratitude for the opportunity that Early College afforded them, some of whom will be the first in their families to earn a post-secondary degree at all, let alone completing one while also earning a high school diploma.
There are currently 17 designated Early College programs in the commonwealth, with over 1100 students across 16 colleges and universities and 33 high schools involved. According to MassINC‘s recent report “Investing in Early College: Our Most Promising Pathway” Early College can double completion rates among low-income students. The report further points out that the business community can be the biggest beneficiary of Early College, with every $1 invested producing a return of $15. Click here to listen to the MassINC “Gateways” podcast to learn more about the impact the Early Colleges can have on the regional economy with host Benjamin Forman and guests Roy Nascimento, President and CEO of the North Central Mass Chamber of Commerce, and Glenn Eaton, Executive Director of the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission.
The North Central MA Early College Academy is unique in that it is a partnership with multiple school districts and two higher-ed institutions. “These partnerships have been a demonstrable strength in our region”, stated MWCC President James Vander Hooven.
An example of one such successful partnership is Project Healthcare, which two of our student panelists are current participants. The partnership was developed after a MWCC developed survey to gauge student interest in health professions was developed and distributed to Leominster and Fitchburg High School students. The survey included a wide range of characteristics, such as STEM interest and interpersonal abilities, which provided indicators of a fit with a healthcare profession. MWCC then visited every 9th grade biology class to describe the program and encourage students who are interested to apply. Following acceptance in the program, students are enrolled in a series of courses that not only allow them to explore the career, but to also research college options aligned with their interests and engage in other preparatory activities such as applications and financial aid. As of August 2019, Project Healthcare students have earned over 1,200 college credits and saved over $260,000, 38 students have become Certified Nursing Assistants, and over 100 have been CPR, First Aid, QPR and Narcan trained. Last year 92 students graduated through the program and there are currently 67 high school seniors enrolled.
Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago and Chairman Chris Gabrieli each spoke passionately of the need for Early College. “It is malpractice for us to not do this”, Chairman Gabrieli noted.
Special thanks are in order to the teams at the partner schools for their efforts and dedication to the Early College designation and for organizing the Summit, as well as to the Summit sponsor, the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts.