SOAR Initiative Provides Extra Support to Hundreds of NECC Students
Haverhill, MA (September 24, 2021) – On a recent Tuesday evening, a group of Northern Essex Community College students and their families sat silently under a tent in the middle of the Haverhill campus. President Lane Glenn had just asked them to close their eyes and think of someone who had made a difference in their education. One student later shared a story about a middle school teacher who noticed her musical talent. Another talked about a mentor in high school who reassured her that a career in healthcare was attainable.
This group was gathered to celebrate a new statewide initiative, which promises to have a similar influence, connecting students with the support and encouragement needed to be successful in college.
The statewide initiative is modeled after Northern Essex’s Pathways to Academic and Career Excellence (PACE) Program, a federally-funded student support services program, and is aimed at increasing positive outcomes for community college students.
President Glenn was instrumental in lobbying for the creation of the new statewide SUCCESS Fund (Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services). Thanks to support from state legislators, $17.5 million was included in this year’s state budget to provide wrap-around support services that will benefit the most vulnerable students at the 15 community colleges. Northern Essex received $1.2M of that.
Northern Essex is using the funding to create the SOAR Initiative, which stands for Seize Opportunities, Aspire to Rise. Program coordinators have already identified more than 600 Northern Essex students who can benefit from extra support. Dean of Students Jonathan Miller says that includes students who are low income, differently-abled, minorities, LGBTQ+, and the first in their family to attend college. Additionally, they looked at grade point averages and attendance to identify participants. Miller says these students will receive a variety of services like peer mentoring, tutoring, academic skills workshops, and transfer advising.
Lucas Restituyo of Haverhill, a liberal arts major, is one of the SOAR scholars. He first came to NECC in 2010, but left to work fulltime before he finished his degree. Just a few weeks into his return, he’s already having a more positive experience. “The more involved you get, the more likely you are to succeed. It gets you thinking,” he says. Fellow SOAR participant Sean Sullivan of Andover, a General Studies: Health Specialization major, agrees. He faced life-changing challenges in the last couple of years, and he’s ready for a new direction. “I want to grow more. I’m excited to be involved in more student activities and meet new people.”
The odds of achieving success are in their favors. SOAR expands on the existing PACE program at NECC. PACE is a federally funded program specifically for first generation college students who meet certain federal financial guidelines. It provides similar, targeted support services to participants. Students who enter the PACE program are 20-30% more successful than the overall student population: 94% stay enrolled at NECC or transfer to another institution, 72% graduate with a degree or certificate within eight semesters, and 94% earn a GPA of 2.5 or higher. The PACE program costs just $1,561 per student. President Glenn shared this data with the state to show that investing in wraparound services for vulnerable students does translate to successful outcomes.
The SUCCESS Fund will support the SOAR program for the remainder of the school year. Efforts are underway to secure additional funding for future students. Coordinator Sarah Cooper says they’ve nearly met their goal of hiring 25 new staffers to ensure that support services are available to all SOAR participants around the clock, seven days a week. As President Glenn told the group gathered under the tent, “It’s our job to make you successful. I hope when you do make it, you’ll think of those at NECC who helped you along the way.”
To learn more, contact Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org
Northern Essex Community College has campuses in both Haverhill and Lawrence. It offers approximately 60 associate degree and certificate programs as well as hundreds of noncredit courses designed for personal enrichment and career growth. Each year, 6,000 students are enrolled in credit associate degree and certificate programs on the Haverhill and Lawrence campuses; and another 2,000 take noncredit workforce development and community education classes on campus, and at businesses and community sites across the Merrimack Valley. For more information, visit the website at www.necc.mass.edu or call 978-556-3700.