NORTH ADAMS — The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts will be starting the year off with a $2.1 million federal grant to better support underserved students.
MCLA President James F. Birge announced the grant during Tuesday morning's opening breakfast.
The college has been awarded a $2.177 million Title III "Strengthening Institutions Program" grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase retention and graduation rates of students from low-income families and students of color over the next five years.
Birge said the news couldn't be more timely.
"Twenty-seven percent of the Class of 2020 self-identify as coming from diverse backgrounds, so this funding will support and promote the success of MCLA students," he said. "In addition, the program will lead to students graduating sooner, which means they will spend less on their education overall and graduate with minimum debt, with a degree that provides the foundation for a successful career."
The $2.177 million Title III grant will be distributed to MCLA over five years, with the program slated to begin on Oct. 1. The first disbursement for the 2016-17 academic year will be $443,346.
The money is designated to help the institution directly build capacity and develop supportive services, versus providing an direct financial support or scholarships to students.
The Education Department feels providing funds to improve and strengthen the academic quality, institutional management, and fiscal stability of institutions serving higher populations of economically disadvantaged students, will better prepare students for success on campus and in their lives.
Over the past couple of years, the college has put forth a concentrated effort to better address the concerns and needs of students from multicultural — including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — backgrounds, as well as women's issues. The new grant will afford more resources to address the issues of economic diversity on campus.
Last spring, the Education Department recognized MCLA as one of 13 institutions nationally for graduating students from low-income families at the same rate as students from high-income families. The college reports that 39 percent of its students are from families that earn less than $40,000 a year — the highest percentage in the state university system — and 46 percent receive Pell grants, a federally funded grant program for low-income students.
President Birge said this grant and its goals of helping state colleges close achievement gaps is also directly aligned with the state Department of Higher Education's "Vision Project" goals of "honing in on college access, affordability and completion in Massachusetts."
"I'm very proud to see MCLA emerging as a national leader for its work in developing winning strategies to recruit, retain and graduate more low-income students and students of color," said Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos E. Santiago, who will be visiting the Berkshires on Sept. 20, to discuss higher education with area business leaders and how they can also help support students and colleges in achieving these goals.
"Here in Massachusetts, [MCLA's] success provides a critical model for other campuses and will help our public higher education system reach its goal to graduate more students in less time," he said in a prepared statement.
Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.