StamfordPlus, Education

HCC receives $743,000 grant from Gates Foundation

Jun 23, 2009 - 8:59 AM

Housatonic Community College has been awarded a $743,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand groundbreaking educational programs that promise to help more young people succeed in college and beyond.

The grant, which will be spread over three years, will be used to expand four programs developed through Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count, the multi-year initiative designed to boost college graduation rates among low-income and minority students. Housatonic is one of 15 community colleges nationwide to receive a grant, funded by the Gates Foundation through MDC, Inc.

“This generous grant will enable us to expand these initiatives, which have already begun to demonstrate their value,” said HCC President Anita Gliniecki. “The award means that we’ll be able to give more students more opportunities to get the education they need to achieve their dreams.”

The Gates/MDC grant is designed to address what’s becoming a national problem.

“The pressing need to shore up weak academic skills in first-year students is one of the most significant, but least discussed, problems confronting higher education,” said Carol Lincoln, director of the Developmental Education Initiative and national director of Achieving the Dream for MDC. “Colleges that can figure out how to quickly and efficiently boost basic skills, particularly among minority and low-income students, will play a leading role in helping them earn the college degrees necessary for economic success in America today.”

At Housatonic, the grant will be used to:

  • Expand the college’s innovative Open-Entry/Open-Exit Math programs that allow students to study at their own pace and take up to three semesters to complete this computer-based course. Three courses, Prealgebra, Elementary Algebra and Intermediate Algebra, are being offered in this format.
  • Expand the OE/OE concept to English courses as well. The first OE/OE English course, Writing Foundations of English, will be offered this fall.
  • Offer qualified students an intensive three-week math review program togive them the opportunity place into higher level math courses.
  • Offer college placement testing to incoming high school seniors to they can begin work to strengthen their academic foundations while still in high school. The tests will be offered to the more than 800 area high schools participating in the college’s Bridges college readiness program.

The OE-OE math course has been a hit with students who’ve taken it. For student Liz Bragg of Bridgeport, this self-paced course is the prescription she needed to get the math credits required for her degree. 'It's great,” she said. 'It's easier. I could go at my own pace, which is what I like.’

The traditional class moved too fast for her, she said. The self-paced course allowed her the time she needs to fully understand a problem and determine how to solve it.

She was able to finish the course in two semesters.

Cameron Liggins of Shelton, a member of the Class of 2009, regards the class as an experiment that worked. “I’m a visual learner,” said Liggins, who finished the course a month early, “and the computer-based program has a lot of pictures and illustrations. That worked better for me than a lot of mathematical formulas.”

“The class is an experiment that works,” he said.

The intensive three-week math refresher, said Marianne Tecun, Director of HCC’s Academic Support Center. “The success rates were phenomenal,” she said. “We piloted this with 15 students and every one of them placed one or two classes higher after completing the refresher.”

Adding the placement tests to the Bridges college readiness program would enable high school seniors to begin strengthening their academic backgrounds while in high school. This would free them up to focus their full attention on college-level courses during their college careers, rather than shoring up the skills they need to do this work.

The Bridges program offers area high school students four workshops that will assist them with the transition to college. These include Orientation to College, Placement Test Preparation, Career Planning and Financial Aid. The placement tests would be offered as part of the placement test preparation workshop.

Program completer Nidia Montalvo of Stratford, a member of the Class of 2009 at Bunnell High School, has only praise for the Bridges Program. “It gives students an opportunity to understand what college is about and ease your anxieties,” she said.

Offering placement tests to high school students ‘is really a great idea,” she said. “It makes much more sense for students to make themselves stronger (academically) before they get to college,” she said.

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