Hampshire and Holyoke Community colleges work together to benefit students

Last modified: Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Like many area students who pursued an associate degree at a local community college, Emmanuel Morales wanted to take his education a step further. So he transferred from Holyoke Community College to Hampshire College in Amherst to complete his four-year education.

That was a year ago when Hampshire College did not have a formal transfer agreement with HCC. But to attract more students like Morales, who excelled in math at HCC, the two schools signed an agreement in October to make it seamless for students to transfer their credits.

Hampshire College joined the growing number of public and private higher education institutions tapping into the pool of students at community colleges.

Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash said the agreement came as a result of conversations he had with HCC President William F. Messner about formalizing the transfer process.

“I give Bill Messner a lot of credit. He is working hard to open paths for his students to four-year colleges. Developing the agreement just makes it easier for students to understand how to navigate both getting into and getting through Hampshire,” Lash said. “These are kids who have the ambition and energy and commitment to overcome huge odds. If we can help them, we are delighted to do it.”

Both HCC and Greenfield Community College over the years have increased the number of transfer agreements they have with public and private colleges in Massachusetts and other New England states as a way to boost their own enrollment. Today, HCC has 67 agreements with 27 schools while GCC has more than 26 transfer agreements. Most recently, HCC added an agreement for students in its online degree program to transfer to the online program at Westfield State University.

School officials say the agreements are a win-win for both the institutions and students, especially with the rising cost of a college education.

“Obviously the cost of attending a community college is significantly lower than going all four years at a college or university,” said Mark Broadbent, coordinator of transfer affairs and articulation at HCC. “So from a financial perspective students can get a good education at a community college and then transfer for the next two years at a lower overall cost.

“Also a lot of four-year schools are looking at offering specific scholarships for transfer students as an incentive,” he added.

Kathleen Maisto, transfer coordinator at GCC, agreed about the cost savings as a benefit. “The advantage of the community college these days is you’re cutting your debt load in half. Students know they can do the first two years with us and the last two at a four-year and save yourself a bundle of money,” she said.

Most of the community college students who transfer to Hampshire College receive extensive financial aid to help make that education possible, Lash said.

“The Valley is working hard to make sure that we serve a diverse population of students that helps all of our students and our community in general,” he said. “Community colleges are serving low-income and often first-generation students. It’s important to us and very much in line with our mission.”

The community colleges benefit from these agreements because students understand that their credits will be accepted as long as they meet specific requirements spelled out in the agreements, such as maintaining a certain GPA, Broadbent said. Some of the agreements are specific to earning a liberal arts degree only.

“The agreements are a good advising tool for students to make sure they’re taking the appropriate courses,” he said. “Studies have found that students with an associate degree that transfer onto the four-year degree schools obtain bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than even the native students.”

GCC benefits because the transfer agreements give the school more options for its students to pursue an education beyond the two years, including schools such as Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, Maisto said. For community college students it’s important for them to connect early with counselors and advisers to help them clarify why they’re in college and identify their interests and skills, she said.

“The doors open for them with schools they may not have been able to get into after high school. We prepare them in the first two years and then our agreements establish relationships and partnerships with the four-year colleges and universities,” she said.

Besides adding Hampshire College to its list of transfer agreements, HCC added another with the University of Massachusetts Commonwealth Honors College in October, the first community college in Massachusetts to do so. Since about 200 HCC students a year transfer to UMass, the Commonwealth Honors College is another option to choose from within the university, Broadbent said.

“We want to make sure our qualified students looking at an honors program do not forget about UMass,” he said.

As a private liberal arts institution, Hampshire College does not offer its students traditional majors. As such, community college students who are “independent-minded and driven by their own interests and questions” could consider pursuing a degree there, Lash said.

The agreement states, in part, that an admissions committee assesses all transfer applicants and specifically considers “demonstrated community involvement, intellectual curiosity, independence and self-direction.”

“We are very eager to have students from a whole range of backgrounds and from the local community. That is a big addition to us,” Lash added.

Standout math student

Morales fits that bill. A standout student in math at HCC, he qualified for a National Science Foundation grant to attend Hampshire College. He is concentrating in the “Nexus of Mathematics and Technological Social Movements.”

“I feel privileged to be here. I didn’t think I could go to a school like Hampshire coming from a working-class family,” said Morales, 22, who grew up in Holyoke and now lives in Amherst. “I thought I would just go to work and pay bills. HCC really gave me hope to have a shot at an education like this.”

Morales said he is studying the “intersection of civil liberties and technology,” including online communities that work together to share information and collaborate, such as Wikipedia.

“I look at communities of people, such as software developers and activists and see technologies they develop to fight against these oppressive systems technically,” he said. “I look at how these groups make use of the legal and legislative systems, which historically have been used as conduits of oppression, to their advantage.”

The transfer agreements help community college career counselors and academic advisers to more effectively advise students as to the best courses to take and identify the most appropriate four-year school for a particular major, Maisto said.

“I realized that transfer advising incorporates career counseling and academic advising. We look at the academic piece that will help students with the career piece,” she said. “Over the years I noticed at conferences the merger of these three areas has grown significantly.”

Maisto tells her new students the importance of working with advisers at GCC if their plan is to attend a four-year college, and especially if they have not even considered that as an option. Some of the more popular agreements at GCC are in the fields of computer technology, health care, business, engineering and nursing, she said.

“We are giving our students a lot more transfer options. For example, if they really want to go into exercise science, UMass isn’t their only option. They could go to Springfield College or Baypath,” she said.

Like HCC, the majority of GCC students transfer to UMass, approximately 160 a year, Maisto said. Through its transfer agreement, students in the business program could get a guaranteed spot in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass if they meet certain requirements, she said.

“It’s those kind of agreements where students can really benefit by having a guaranteed transfer with credits into a very select program because of our articulation,” Maisto said.

For Morales, going from a community college to an institution like Hampshire College was initially scary but he said he has now found his comfort zone.

“To go from following a major to developing my own concentration and writing my own academic contract was quite liberating,” he said. “Now with the new agreement between Hampshire and HCC, I am excited to see more people have an easier path to get here.”


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