Berkshire Community College gets federal grant aimed at boosting student enrollment, graduation rates

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Photo Gallery | Title III grant awarded to Berkshire Community College

PITTSFIELD — Over the next five years, Berkshire Community College plans to spend nearly $2 million in federal funds to boost sagging enrollment, improve student retention in the classroom and see more graduates on the stage at Tanglewood each May.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded BCC a $1.98 million Title III Strengthening Institutions grant.

"I didn't think we had a prayer to get this grant," said BCC President Ellen Kennedy during Monday's announcement on the West Street campus.

Divine intervention aside, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal cited the well-written grant application by the BCC staff for securing the federal dollars. He noted the grant will ensure the cost and convenience of community college translates into students receiving diplomas.

"Equal opportunity doesn't mean equal success," he said.

Since 2010, BCC has seen the student population, currently at 2,230, drop 25 percent, officials said. In addition, student retention rate of what they learn from year to year is hovering around 56 percent and the graduation rate has been off by 19 percent.

"Too many students fail to meet their goals," said Michael Bullock, BCC's vice president for student affairs and enrollment services. "But we know we can improve success with Title III resources."

"This grant is a big deal," he said.

Bullock outlined the three-pronged approach to enhance student success at BCC:

• Create a one-stop center to meet all the information needs of new enrolles, redesign student orientation programs and better track struggling students to allow for early intervention.

• Provide structured pathways to graduation via academics and first-year experience opportunities.

• Use engaged learning and faculty online assistance to ensure students graduate.

The Title III grant program is intended to help institutions of higher learning become self-sufficient and expand their capacity to serve students of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds through a quality education, stronger administrative management and fiscal stability.

Gladys Garcia-Rijos, a student representative on the BCC board of trustees, believes the grant will benefit all who attend the community college.

"It doesn't matter if you're right out of high school or going back to school later [in life,], the college process can be challenging," she said.

In recent years, BCC has spent roughly $34 million in state capital funds to renovate the Hoffmann Environmental Center, the gym floor and lighting at Paterson Field House, upgrade the Hawthorne and Melville building and soon begin improving the roadways and parking lots on campus.

The Title III grant is seen as the first step to focus on the betterment of what goes on inside those buildings, according college, city officials and the Berkshire delegation to the state Legislature.

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi highlighted how the local business community has and will continue to work closely with the college to create a more highly skilled workforce.

And Berkshire state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing views the federal funds as possible leverage to help bolster state investment in higher education, especially BCC.

"This will underline the community in community college," he said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233


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