Connecticut Post, Stamford Advocate

Norwalk CC, Housatonic receive Gates funds

By Amanda Cuda, Staff Writer

Posted: 06/22/2009 10:49:45 PM EDT

Math is inarguably an important skill, necessary in nearly every profession. Yet, for many community college students, math classes -- particularly remedial math classes, which rehash much of what students have already learned -- can sap their enthusiasm for knowledge, and dissuade them from continuing their education.

"Math can be intimidating," said Marianne Tecun, director of the Academic Support Center at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. "Math can be discouraging."

To help decrease the number of students who have to take remedial math, and to help better motivate the students who can't avoid it, Housatonic has instituted a number of innovative programs. These include the Open-Entry/Open-Exit Math program, which allow students to complete math courses at their own pace. The classes can be done in as little as five weeks or in as much as three semesters.

Tecun said programs like these go a long way toward giving community college students the confidence they need to continue their studies. And, thanks to a recent grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the North Carolina nonprofit MDC, Inc., Housatonic will be able to expand these programs even further.

This week, it was announced that Housatonic will receive $743,000 over three years to help expand remedial education programs, such as Open Entry/Open Exit. The foundation also granted $743,000 to Norwalk Community College and $300,000 to the Connecticut Community

College system as a whole. These funds will also be used for programs aimed at persuading community college students to complete their studies.

Both Housatonic and Norwalk participate in MDC's Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count initiative, a multi-year national effort to boost graduation rates at community colleges, particularly among low-income students and students of color. National studies have shown that nearly two-thirds of those who take traditional remedial classes at community colleges lose interest and don't complete their studies.

MDC spokesman Richard Hart said Achieving the Dream is looking to change that. "For years, the emphasis [at community colleges] has always been on access," he said. "They haven't focused as much on completion."

The Connecticut grants are part of a larger $16.5 million effort that will reach an estimated 45,000 students nationwide.

Hart said the institutions selected to receive the grant money are those whose initiatives have had the most success. At Housatonic, the grant money will be put toward several projects. In addition to expanding the Open Entry/Open Exit Math program, the college will develop a similar program for remedial English classes.

The school will also expand a newly launched three-week math review program. Started as a pilot program in January, the review program allows students placed in remedial math a chance to place into a higher level class after taking a brief refresher course. Housatonic grant development specialist Andrea Salzburg said this program has already proved beneficial to the students who have used it.

"We have so many students that come here who test into developmental math, but they're really at a higher level. They've just forgotten some of the basic material," Salzburg said.

Both Salzburg and Tecun said the grant money represents an exciting opportunity for Housatonic. Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor of Connecticut Community Colleges, echoed those thoughts. The state's grant money will help improve remedial programs statewide, again with the goal of helping more students stick with their college studies. Cox said she was pleased that Connecticut was picked to receive the funds. "It will really help to address many problems that Connecticut is facing, particularly in these difficult economic times," she said.