Bard Microcollege lands $1M to help it educate women from low-income backgrounds

  • A class is underway at Bard Microcollege in Holyoke in 2016. Bard announced this week that it has received $1 million to support its mission giving women from low-income backgrounds a chance to obtain a postsecondary education. gazette file photo

Published: 11/29/2022 5:09:36 PM
Modified: 11/29/2022 5:09:22 PM

HOLYOKE — A self-styled “microcollege” in Holyoke looking to give women from low-income backgrounds a chance to obtain a postsecondary education has received $1 million as part of a campaign to establish an endowment for the school.

The microcollege is run in collaboration with The Care Center, a Holyoke-based nonprofit, and Bard College, a liberal arts college based in New York. The school allows women who take classes an opportunity for an accredited associate degree from Bard, setting them on the path to eventually to obtain a bachelor’s degree. The center also provides child care and transportation, common obstacles for low-income women wishing to attend classes.

“The most stable and important way out of poverty is with a college degree,” said Anne Teschner, the executive director of The Care Center. “These are students who many have written off as not being able to do college-level work. But we have seen consistently that with adequate support and a clear sense of high expectations and exciting educational experience, they do.”

The school, officially known as Bard Microcollege Holyoke, models itself after a liberal arts college style of education, similar to neighboring women’s colleges in the Valley such as Smith and Mount Holyoke. Teschner said that some students who graduate from the program end up attending those same neighboring institutions.

Though The Care Center had intended for the microcollege to be funded by Pell grants, due to serving low-income women, it soon became clear that not every student who enrolled would be eligible for a grant. To ensure the school’s financial security in the future, it would need its own endowment, as most colleges and universities around the country have.

To seek initial funding for the endowment, The Care Center turned to the Ceres Foundation, a fundraising organization based in Maryland that has partnered with nonprofits focused on youth education in western Massachusetts, Washington D.C. and Orange County, California. The foundation provided some of the first seed funding when The Care Center launched the microcollege in 2016.

The Care Center set a goal of $4 million for the endowment — a paltry sum as far as college endowments go (Smith College’s endowment exceeds $2 billion) but enough to keep the college going in perpetuity as well as expanding the maximum number of students to 75, compared to around 50 students that currently attend.

“We thought it was attainable,” said Amanda Northrop, the executive director at the Ceres Foundation, regarding the endowment goal. “It would help enshrine this program that’s been so successful and knowing that the western Massachusetts funding is more limited than in other parts of the country, eliminate that annual fundraising burden for them.”

The $1 million Ceres gave is the largest single amount the foundation has given out to date. Other local donors to the microcollege, such as PeoplesBank, The Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation and Health New England, have also already provided funding for the endowment to the tune of $2 million, according to Teschner.

“It’s thrilling to just think we’re halfway there,” she said. “This is a very powerful model that’s going to change the lives of these women, and their children.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com
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