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Board of Trustees Update: October 2023   

Submitted by on October 24, 2023 – 2:30 pm

Haverhill, MA (October 4, 2023) – The Northern Essex Community College Board of Trustees gathered on the Haverhill Campus for its October meeting. Among other topics, members of the board and those in attendance received updates on the SOAR Program and enrollment under the state’s new MassReconnect Program.

SOAR Program 
The SOAR Program, which stands for Seize Opportunities, Aspire to Rise, was created in 2021. SOAR provides wrap-around services to students who are historically under-represented and under-served in higher education, including students experiencing poverty, students from minoritized communities, first-generation students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ students.

SOAR Director Sarah Cooper, along with Assistant Director Martha Mazeika and Assistant Director of SOAR for Academic Support Dermot Luddy, shared how their efforts are already yielding promising results. For the academic year that ended this past spring, 15 SOAR students made the Dean’s List, five achieved high honors, three received departmental awards and one was recognized as a Civic Scholar.

Cooper also shared how they’ve used data and feedback to fine-tune their approach to helping students succeed. They’ve recently implemented wellness components to their work- such as a mental health expert and a financial coach. All students are also assigned an academic coach as soon as they enroll in SOAR.

“It’s a process that begins on day one, and it’s not transactional,” said Luddy. “We get a sense of what are their career goals, their values, what drives them, and find ways to keep them engaged so they continue to succeed.”

Those coaches can provide a vital link between students and their professors. For example, this summer, SOAR coaches helped students resolve courses for which they received an incomplete.

“Students often don’t understand what an incomplete means. They might not find out until a semester later that they failed the class,” said Cooper. By taking a proactive approach, the team resolved 15 incompletes over this summer, saving those students time and money in the long run.

SOAR is funded through the statewide SUCCESS (Supporting Urgent Community College Equity Through Student Services) initiative. President Lane Glenn lobbied for its creation, after observing student success rates in the TRIO program. TRIO is a federal grant program that funds support services for eligible low-income students. Glenn recently addressed a national audience on the early results of the SUCCESS program.

MassReconnect Enrollment  
Northern Essex Provost Paul Beaudin shared a brief update on MassReconnect enrollment. MassReconnect is the new program included in the FY24 state budget, which allows adults ages 25+, who don’t already have a degree, to earn one at a community college for free.

For fall semester one, 144 students received MassReconnect awards totaling $339,000. That works out to approximately $2300 per student. Beaudin shared that enrollment service counselors have also worked to help those students transfer in any prior college credits or to receive other credits for prior learning.

“When a student is over 25, he or she has been out in the world. They have life experience which is worth academic credit,” said Beaudin.

He anticipates that MassReconnect enrollment will continue to increase with the upcoming starts of fall session II classes and winter intersession.

Students interested in learning more about MassReconnect and enrollment requirements should contact Enrollment Services.