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Board of Trustees Update: October, 2021

Submitted by on October 26, 2021 – 5:42 pm

The October trustee’s meeting included two educational reports, one on the performing arts “revival” and a second on the new Soar Program, a student support program created with $1.2 million in state funding.

Good News for Performing Arts at NECC

After a few challenging years, the performing arts at NECC are showing signs of a “revival”, according to Amy Callahan, dean of Liberal Arts.

In 2017, the college closed its associate degree programs in theater and dance, and last year the Music Technology Certificate was deactivated. The Associate Degree in General Studies: Music Option was also at risk of closure, due to declining enrollments.

“We are now turning a corner,” said Callahan. “Theater and music are showing signs of growth and revitalization.”

The Liberal Arts Division, with leadership from Music Program Coordinator Alisa Bucchiere, took action when the music program was at risk, revising and streamlining the curriculum; strengthening the transfer pathway to UMass Lowell, the primary transfer institution for NECC students; and increasing recruitment efforts.

As a result, enrollment in the music associate degree has doubled in two years, from 10 to 20 students.

While there is no longer a theater major, the college has continued to offer theater courses and student performances, even throughout the pandemic, when virtual performances were staged.

This fall, the division welcomed Brianne Beatrice, the first full-time faculty member to teach theater/communication since the degree was closed. There are also plans to develop a theater focus within the Liberal Arts associate degree.

“Revival of the performing arts is important news,” Callahan told trustees. “Participation in the arts is linked to higher levels of civic engagement, social tolerance, and other hallmarks of a healthy society.”

Trustee Marianne Paley-Nadel shared that the decision to cut performing arts programs was “a difficult one.” “I recognize the importance of the arts, especially in Lawrence,” she said. “I am appreciative that despite there not being a degree program there is still a commitment from faculty and staff.”

Soar Program to Benefit 600 Students

Resources available to help students succeed at the 15 Massachusetts community colleges got a boost this year, when the legislature appropriated $7 million in the FY 21 budget—followed by an additional allocation of $10.5 million—for wrap-around supports and services for students.

The SUCCESS Fund (Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services) is based on the success of Northern Essex’s PACE Program, a federally funded program that serves 250 first generation and low income students each year with individualized support services.

Northern Essex is using the $1.2 million they received from the SUCCESS Fund to create the SOAR (Seizing Opportunities, Aspire to Rise) Program, which will serve 600 students, with a focus on students who are Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), LatinX, first generation, low income and adult learners.

Students in the SOAR Program will receive a variety of services such as peer mentoring, tutoring, academic skills workshops, and transfer advising.

Sarah Cooper, who has been hired as the director of the program, told trustees that the program is based on asset-based thinking. “We are here to remove barriers. We believe once those barriers are removed students can more easily succeed on their own.”

The progress of SOAR scholars (students in the program) will be carefully measured based on traditional success outcomes to determine if the efforts are working. The college will be looking at individual course success; GPA’s; persistence; retention; graduation; transfer; and student engagement.

“We are creating goals and strategies to connect students with NECC faculty and staff and with their student peers,” said Cooper. “We will also address knowledge and skills gaps.”

Support will be provided by a staff of 18 including case managers, academic and transfer advisors, and academic coaches.

NECC President Lane Glenn is chair of the SUCCESS Steering Committee. “In January we will be going back to the legislature for more funding. By that time, we should have some successful course completion and fall to spring completion outcomes that we can share with the legislature to prove these programs work.”

Trustee Committee Reports

Alumni & Advancement

Trustee Patti Fernandez is facilitating more trustee involvement in college fundraising in her role as chair of the Alumni & Advancement sub-committee. Allison Dolan-Wilson, vice president of institutional advancement, will be meeting one-on-one with trustees to learn what college initiatives excite them most and determine who in their networks might be in position to help support the college. The Alumni & Advancement sub-committee in collaboration with the college’s Institutional Advancement Office is also planning a gathering for past trustees, possibly a breakfast at the culinary institute.

Equity Imperative

The college is still looking for a director for the new Center for Equity and Social Justice, according to Trustee Marianne Paley-Nadel.  Also, an advisory board for the center is being recruited. Paley-Nadel would like to see a quarterly trustee presentation on the equity issue and possibly programming on this topic for trustees.

Report of Administration

Fall Enrollment Stays Steady, Which is Good News

President Lane Glenn reported that enrollments this fall held steady, when compared to fall of 2020. Head-count was up 1.2% and FTE (full-time equivalency) was down 1.4%. “We have more students taking fewer courses,” he said.

The focus this semester will be on improving course completion rates, with a target of a 75% successful course completion, meaning that 75% of students pass with a grade of C or higher.  “Our new student numbers are up,” said Glenn. “Our goal this fall is to retain those students.”

Strategic Planning

The college is creating its strategic planning, using a broadly engaging process called appreciative inquiry, said Glenn. “It allows everyone to be involved in any way they want to be involved.”

The planning process is led by a lead team, including Cheryl Goodwin, chief of staff, Allison Dolan-Wilson, vice president of institutional advancement, Audrey Ellis, director of institutional effectiveness, and President Lane Glenn, as well as a core team of 40 faculty and staff who have volunteered to play a lead role.

The plan should be finalized by January.