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Closing achievement gaps

Posted 12/08/15

The $30k Commitment flyerInnovative collaborations with other colleges and universities and growing partnerships with local high schools are helping Fitchburg State University make progress in its efforts to close achievement gaps and educate underserved populations.

Fitchburg State’s robust dual enrollment programs make college credit available to high school students at a fraction of the cost, providing meaningful opportunities for the region’s diverse student body. The University worked with Fitchburg High School – an urban high school with a majority diverse population with universal free lunch – to develop an Honors Compact wherein high-achieving students can access the University’s resources from grade 9 on. There are more than 130 Honors Compact students at present, a number that is expected to rise to 175 next year. They have enjoyed dual enrollment courses on campus and through visiting professors teaching at Fitchburg High.

Additional college courses are made available to local high school students through the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Partnership (CDEP). The Fitchburg State CDEP program serves students who are first-generation and/or come from families with low income as well as populations underrepresented in higher education, allowing them to take college courses at no cost.

The University has used its partnership with the TRIO-Upward Bound program that serves Leominster, Fitchburg and Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, as well partnerships with Fitchburg High School and the Sizer School, a North Central Charter Essential School, to continue to expand dual enrollment to this demographic.

Last academic year, Fitchburg State served 47 students from these partnerships (several of whom participated in more than one dual enrollment class). Of these, 36 percent were African-American or Hispanic/Latino. With the University’s current CDEP funds, Fitchburg State plans to double the number of students and expand the number who are underrepresented in higher education. These students have been served in cohorts specially designed for CDEP students, as well as CDEP students in classes with their matriculated university peers. In fall 2015, there are 42 CDEP students registered, with more classes scheduled for the spring and summer.

These partnerships are supported by a structured college awareness and planning program for each. College and career awareness activities start in the freshman year and take place at the schools and the University. These include customized visits to Fitchburg State to provide an overview of each program and the potential dual enrollment pathways. Fitchburg State admissions and financial aid staff members provide tours and presentations on college awareness and planning. College awareness and access presentations are held with parents and students. These include information sessions, financial aid workshops, and FAFSA workshops with parents and students to help them understand that a college education is possible. Working with parents on career awareness is equally important so that they understand the benefit of a well-paying career that is possible after an investment in college. Regular visits to campus and programmed activities will reinforce the student’s college going plans. Students will tour the campus, attend special lectures and events, and meet with college advisors.

These efforts complement Fitchburg State’s other efforts to improve college readiness, such as its longstanding institute program with Mount Wachusett Community College, in which Mount students attend courses on the Gardner campus but enjoy another facet of college experience through living in Fitchburg State residence halls.

The University has also invested in programs like Degree Works to help keep students on track. The software empowers students to monitor their progress toward their major in real time, while also letting their advisors devote their exchanges to deeper discussions on a student’s broader goals.

Fitchburg State is also one of the founding members of the $30K Commitment, developed in conjunction with Worcester State, Mount Wachusett Community College and Quinsigamond Community College. The program, launched this fall, guarantees qualifying students at the two community colleges admission to the state university and the promise of two completed degrees within four years, with costs capped at $30,000 – close to one year of the average private tuition in the area.

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