Program Drove Over Age 25 Enrollment at Northern Essex, Other Community Colleges Nearly 45%

Northern Essex Community College student Pedro Rentas of Haverhill. (Courtesy photograph.)

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The Healey-Driscoll Administration says MassReconnect drove community college enrollment of those over age 25 up nearly 45% and overall enrollment 8% during its first academic year, supporting more than 4,500 students, including Pedro Rentas of Haverhill.

The enrollment increase reversed a decade of declines. The state Education Department highlighted Pedro Rentas of Haverhill who began last fall in the business transfer associate degree program at Northern Essex Community College. He is from the Dominican Republic and worked in radio broadcast and banking.

“I’m trying to spread the word to other Spanish-speakers in my community, because many people don’t know about the program,” he is quoted as saying.

Launched in August 2023, Gov. Maura T. Healey’s free community college program for students 25 and over without prior degrees has made Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges tuition and fee-free for thousands of students and inspired thousands more to enroll since the program’s start.

Rentas was cleaning bathrooms when he first arrived in the U.S. He studied English and later landed a role at a bank in customer service. He was initially going to enroll in a certificate program at Norther Essex, but after learning about MassReconnect, he decided to earn his associate degree. On campus, Rentas has earned honors for his academic success and made the Dean’s list. He also completed the college’s mental health first aid certification, which prepares learners to respond when someone is experiencing a mental health emergency or emotional distress.

Students receive support from MassReconnect after all other forms of federal and state financial aid are applied. This means the MassReconnect messaging and outreach helped support many students toward pursuing higher education who may have not otherwise, connecting them with other federal and state financial aid programs, such as the federal Pell Grant.

“This is a ticket to economic mobility, providing students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s economy and meet the needs of our employers,” said Healey.

The ability of MassReconnect to connect students with other forms of financial aid can also be seen in the FAFSA completion data. Of students 25 and over who met MassReconnect requirements, 86% completed the FAFSA in fall 2023, a seven-percentage point increase from the prior year. FAFSA completion is required to qualify for MassReconnect.

The Department of Higher Education’s recent legislative report found that the 8,411 new community college students ages 25 and over included 1,667 new students who identified as Black or African American and 1,966 new students who identified as Hispanic or Latino, representing significant enrollment growth over the prior year and demonstrating that MassReconnect is attracting students from across racial subgroups.

Healey’s proposed fiscal year 2025 budget included $24 million for MassReconnect, a 20% increase from the prior budget.

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