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Roxbury Community College, UMass Boston receive $300K grant to help close achievement gap

Martin Desmarais | 9/25/2013, 11:27 a.m.
President of Roxbury Community College Valerie Roberson announces a new grant awarded to her school and the University of Massachusetts Boston to improve student performance, increase graduation rates and close the achievement gap in higher education. The grant is part of $7.5 million to be given out by the state. courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Education

Roxbury Community College (RCC) has been given $294,859 by the state to work with the University of Massachusetts Boston to improve student performance, increase graduation rates and continue its overall work to close the achievement gap in higher education.

The money is part of $7.5 million in grants to be given out by the state to improve the success of students in the public higher education system.

The grant, which will fund the efforts of RCC and UMass Boston for three years, will allow the schools to partner on a new coaching and advising program. The program will have three main focus areas, according to officials.

First, RCC will create a team of coaches to work with Madison Park High School in Roxbury and students in the Massachusetts Academic PolyTech Pathway project. The project allows students to take classes in Madison Park’s Nursing Assisting Program and also at RCC’s Nursing Health Science Preparatory Program.

This fall, about 20 Madison Park juniors will begin taking nursing classes at both schools and, in doing so, earn college credits.

Second, RCC and UMass Boston will establish additional coaches and advisors to support the academic progress of students at the community college who plan to transfer to UMass Boston. These students will have access to services such as tutoring and study groups.

Lastly, the grant money will be used to track and assess student performance and keep track of progress once the students enroll.

“What this grant does is it provides a much-needed pathway for students coming from Madison Park to Roxbury Community College, and then for those who want to move on … to UMass Boston,” said Brenda Mercomes, vice president for academic affairs at RCC.

Mercomes said there is a well-established bridge between RCC and UMass Boston. As community college students, RCC graduates in approved programs receive an associate degree and then are automatically admitted to UMass Boston to receive a bachelor’s degree.

She estimated that as many as 60-70 RCC graduates enroll in UMass Boston a year. The goal is to significantly increase that amount, though the school has not set a specific number as a target.

“We really encourage students to transfer to UMass Boston. We are one of the largest feeders into UMass Boston. … We are looking to build that pathway,” Mercomes said. “We hope we will get more and more students that realize that is just a perfect trajectory for them to keep going.”

In Mercomes view, the part of the grant money that will be used to work with Madison Park students to earn credits at RCC will be a big boost to get these students to move on to community college and then on to four-year colleges like UMass Boston.

“So many of these students are first generation students — their parents did not go to college. For them to get three college credits at the end of this year — that is going to be huge,” Mercomes said. “The idea is, in five years we want those students to have a credential — an associate degree or working toward a bachelor’s degree.”