Podcast: Community Colleges are ‘Hot’ Right Now; Dolan-Wilson Explains How to Avoid Debt

Northern Essex Community College Vice President of Institutional Advancement Allison Dolan-Wilson. (Courtesy photograph)

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Community colleges are seeing enrollment growth with new state initiatives and are poised for more if the state Senate is successful in providing free community college for everyone.

Northern Essex Community College Vice President of Institutional Advancement Allison Dolan-Wilson, a recent guest on WHAV’s “Win for Breakfast” program, is delighted with the focus.

“First and foremost, community colleges are so hot right now. I love that. I love any attention because it is absolutely well deserved. And, where you decide to go for higher education is an important decision and we are very lucky to have Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill,” she said.

As WHAV reported last week, Senate President Karen E. Spilka said to “Keep your eyes peeled” for free community college funding in the Senate’s version of the budget for the year that begins July 1. The Boston Consulting Group estimated the cost to be about $170 million.

Dolan-Wilson says there is some experience with free community college tuition because of MassReconnect that started last fall for adults 25 and older who haven’t finished their college degrees. She told the story of a mason in his late 30s and his young daughter.

“But, with his work, when it’s cold outside, he doesn’t work. If he’s injured, he doesn’t work. If he’s injured, he doesn’t have insurance. There’s no one putting anything into his 401k and for a while he’s been saying ‘I need to go back to school.’ He’s a citizen, he’s an immigrant from Mexico, and bilingual, he’s an amazing human being and because of this program, he’s now Computer Science at Northern Essex, he has an amazing future ahead of him and he’s going to be able to provide for his family and the main reason he’s able to make that decision is because of MassReconnect being here,” she explained.

Dolan-Wilson went on to talk about a new transfer agreement with Regis College and the new program offering scholarships to top community college graduates who go to UMass Amherst, Lowell, Boston or Dartmouth to get their bachelor’s degrees.

She added the new Promise program at Haverhill High School offers even greater financial assistance thanks to a generous donor.

“College isn’t getting cheaper. I’m proud to say that almost 80% of our students graduate without debt. If you come to Northern Essex and do your two years and then again finish in the top 10% to be able to get that additional aid out of UMass, and if you really want to do it the best way, thinking about Haverhill, if you attend Early College at Haverhill High and you decide to go on and get your associates degree at Northern Essex, we have a Promise program, which means we cover tuition and fees entirely for your associates. So, you’ve now already entered community college with some credit because of Early College. You’ve now gotten your associates degree for nothing and, if you graduate in the top 10% and you want to go onto UMass, now you’re getting an additional at least $5,000. So, you could be walking out with your bachelor’s degree with absolutely no debt for a very, very small cost,” she said.

Dolan-Wilson says community support makes these programs possible.

“We actually just hit our fundraising goal of $1 million thanks to Pentucket Bank which recently got us over the top with a recent $50,000 gift. And, coming soon, we will have you guys break the news, we actually got some wonderful pledge money to create a new Promise program in the area, which is coming soon,” she added.

Besides WHAV.net, WHAV’s “Merrimack Valley Newsmakers” podcasts are available via Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, TuneIn and Alexa.

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