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Essex County College is one of only two community colleges in New Jersey, and one of nine nationally, participating in a new initiative to support student success. The ambitious undertaking is under the auspices of the nonprofit education and social policy research organization MDRC, with support from Arnold Ventures. The College will receive $120,000 during the first two years of the initiative.
The initiative is dubbed Scaling Up Community College Efforts for Student Success (SUCCESS).
“The emphasis of this program is on success,” said Essex County College President, Dr. Anthony E. Munroe. “This is a major initiative for our College and one that will certainly improve our retention and graduation rates.”
The Essex County College SUCCESS program, starting in the Fall of 2019, will include an initial focus on minority males, said Sanjay Ramdath, the College’s Executive Director for Enrollment Management, who will oversee the program at Essex. He estimated that following the initial cohort of 60 students, the program will serve an estimated 150 students per year for the next five years.
“At the end of the research study, we will have data to scale the model for the entire College,” said Executive Director Ramdath. “The SUCCESS initiative encompasses a number of areas we are trying to accomplish in recruitment, retention and, ultimately, graduation.”
MDRC is providing technical assistance to the nine colleges across four states to develop financially sustainable programs with the goal of improving graduation rates for traditionally underserved students.
SUCCESS programs will be built around elements derived from more than 15 years of postsecondary research conducted by MDRC and others. These program components include: frequent proactive advising; financial incentives tied to service usage; strategies focused on increasing academic momentum (such as requiring full-time enrollment or encouraging summer/winter enrollment); and the use of real-time data to support student progress.
Executive Director Ramdath said financial incentives for students can take various forms, such as covering transportation costs and food. “We will have flexibility in this area.” Counseling and mentoring are also important components of the program, he added.
“New Jersey’s recently-released higher education plan focuses on student success. We recognize it is not enough to get students into college. We must also get students through college and across the stage at graduation on the path to a fulfilling career and life after college,” said New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis.
“The work of MDRC has had a significant impact on improving student success at community colleges throughout the country,” said New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC) President, Dr. Aaron Fichtner. “We see the learnings from SUCCESS as important tools that will help increase the number of people in New Jersey who hold post-secondary degrees or credentials. NJCCC looks forward to working with MDRC and the state on this important initiative that will improve student success for traditionally underserved students.”
“Education is a critical part of providing opportunity to our residents in New Jersey and to strengthening our innovation economy,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. “Our state is working toward the goal of 65 percent of residents obtaining a high-quality credential by 2025. Essex County College and Passaic County Community College are participating in this innovative solution to help our state reach that goal.”