Free community college popular at western Massachusetts schools
Community colleges in western Massachusetts have said they are pleased so far with the results of a state program making education at the schools free for those 25 and older.
Education officials said more than 4,500 students took advantage of the program, known as Mass Reconnect, across Massachusetts for the fall semester.
At Holyoke Community College, 338 students participated. The school's Mark Hudgik, interim dean of strategic recruitment initiatives, said hundreds more became interested in enrolling because of the program, and found out they had other avenues to help pay for school.
"Many of them, over half, had enough financial aid from other sources, Pell Grants, Mass. state grant program, that they didn't need the last dollar amount from Mass Reconnect," he said.
The program is intended to make up the difference from other funding sources to help cover the full cost of attending a community college. Statewide, the number of students 25 and older enrolling at one of the schools increased 44% last fall compared to the year before, a sign Mass Reconnect brought attention to attending community colleges, even if adult students did not need to use the program.
Samantha Plourd, is the dean of enrollment, retention and completion at Springfield Technical Community College, where 692 students participated in Mass Reconnect. She said since the program was rolled out close to the start of the fall semester, there wasn't much time to spread the word. She added that numbers for the spring are looking positive.
"Now that we've spent more time marketing and going out there and talking with our students and the community, they're more aware of the program,” Plourd said. “We see a lot more students going back with a spring start. They've had more time to think about it, more time to plan for what program they wanted to take and now we're seeing them start fresh in the spring."
Last fall at Greenfield Community College, 67 students took advantage of Mass Reconnect and 55 more did so at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield.
Officials at all four schools are hopeful the program will continue into the next academic year.
Gov. Maura Healey has included $24 million for it in her fiscal year 2025 budget proposal, a $4 million bump from the previous budget. And state senate President Karen Spilka has indicated her support.