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Convocation Marks the Start of the Spring 2024 Semester

Submitted by on January 19, 2024 – 6:23 pm

Haverhill, MA (January 18, 2024) – Despite the freezing temperatures outside, inside the Tech Center at Northern Essex Community College, spring was on everyone’s mind. The Convocation ceremony marked the official start of the spring 2024 semester.

Spring Convocation marks the start of the new semester.

This Convocation’s theme centered around Northern Essex’s designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). NECC became the first federally designated HSI in New England in 2001.

While enrollment determines that federal classification, being an HSI is much more than the numbers. Various members of NECC faculty and staff shared how they’re facilitating access to higher education and ensuring the success of all students.

Tuition Equity
The year 2023 was historic for higher education- in particular community colleges- in Massachusetts, thanks to a variety of initiatives from the Healey-Driscoll administration. “They see our students, they see you and they see how valuable community colleges are to the Commonwealth,” said NECC President Lane Glenn.

The Tuition Equity Law was one of those historic initiatives. It allows many undocumented students to access in-state tuition and financial aid to attend public colleges and universities in Massachusetts. Director of International Student Support and Special Populations Maria Hernandez shared at Convocation how she serves not only as a resource to undocumented students at NECC, but also to local high schools.

“I am a resource for families, and I will go where they’re most comfortable. I’m there to navigate them through a process that can be scary and confusing,” she said.

Interim Director of Student Recruitment Loreen Tirrell is NECC’s go-to resource for local students interested in the MassReconnect Program. This program rolled out in the summer of 2023. It provides free community college for adults over the age of 25 who have not already obtained a degree. Tirrell shared statistics showing the program is already having a big impact on the communities NECC serves, including the local Hispanic community, which accounts for 57% of students receiving MassReconnect awards at Northern Essex.

“I visit with rooms full of families, and I meet many adults who never thought college was for them,” Tirrell remarked.

The college has distributed nearly $800,000 in MassReconnect awards.

Community Outreach
While serving students is at the heart of being an HSI, connecting the work done at NECC with the surrounding communities is essential for success. Vice President of the Lawrence Campus and Community Relations Noemi Custodia-Lora works with local businesses, community organizations, and international communities to understand how the college can help them, and vice versa, especially in Lawrence. With a Hispanic population of 80%, many of whom come from the Dominican Republic, she said that raising cultural competency is critical.

One piece of that work is a bi-annual cultural immersion trip to the Dominican Republic. Custodia-Lora said those who attend come back with a new understanding of the students the college serves.

“When you return, there can be a change in how you perceive our students,” said Custodia-Lora. “And the students also feel a different type of connection because they feel you can relate to them.”

The next trip is planned for mid-March. Past visits have garnered the attention of the Dominican press, and Custodia-Lora said, as a result, Dominican students from across New England and New York seek out Northern Essex in their college searches.

English Language Learners
Changes are in the works to the Academic English as a Second Language (ESL) program at NECC, with the goal of giving those students credit for their time spent in those classes and expediting their journeys to courses in their desired major or certificate programs.

“Language is learned best in context,” said Amy Cameron, chair of Academic ESL, who presented alongside Professor Paula Richards. “The language development will happen more quickly in courses.”

Associate Professor of Spanish Arnaldo Robles-Reyes provided a deep dive into how language is learned and processed to show that providing students access to academic content sooner is correlated with higher success rates. The new ESL curriculum will be in place for the fall 2024 semester.

About HSI Designation
The U.S. Department of Education defines an institution of higher education as eligible for HSI designation if its enrollment of undergraduate, full-time equivalent students is at least 25% Hispanic at the end of the award year immediately preceding the date of application.

In 2023, the NECC student population reached 46% Hispanic – most of whom are from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Since 2001, Hispanic student enrollment at NECC has nearly doubled; the success “gap” between Hispanic students and majority students has closed considerably. The proportion of Hispanic graduates at the college tripled from 10% of the graduating class in 2001 to more than 34% in 2020.

To learn more about HSI and services at NECC by visiting the webpage.