Mount Wachusett Community College is the one place in North Central Massachusetts where you can earn an associate’s degree, see a show, send your child to camp, join the fitness center, complete a certificate program or get workforce training.
The Mount was founded in 1963 and was first located at the former Gardner High School on Elm Street, moving to its permanent location on Green Street about a decade later. It now sits on a 249-acre campus with satellite campuses in Leominster, Fitchburg and Devens, serving 29 communities. It offers 70-plus credit bearing degree and certificate programs, non-credit, personal enrichment classes for life-long learners and workforce development that includes custom, on-site training.
“Mount Wachusett Community College really is the regional center for affordable relevant higher education,’’ said MWCC President James Vander Hooven. “We work very closely with local businesses and industries, specifically the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce to make sure that what we’re doing for training, education and curriculum is relevant to the workforce of this region. We’re also a comprehensive community college.’’
Vaner Hooven pointed to its entire advanced manufacturing program as an example of a program that has been developed in conjunction with regional businesses and manufacturers.
In normal times, the main campus is a bustling hub of activity, including a fitness center that is open to the public, a well-respected community theatre, summer camps, and classrooms and labs filled with students.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has hit higher education hard. Enrollment is down about 15 percent, which Vander Hooven said is the median for colleges and universities all over the U.S. Most classes are online or remote and will continue to be through the spring semester.
“The community here, the faculty and staff have been phenomenal in rising to the challenges we’re facing to help make the students successful,’’ he said.
Community college enrollment typically increases a year after an economic downturn, which means more students could be returning next fall. While MWCC appeals to traditional high school graduates looking to get two years of higher education completed at bargain prices, it also serves older, displaced workers or those looking to make a career change.
“That’s where we’re going to see the biggest increase in the next year because of where the economy has been hit by COVID,’’ Vander Hooven said.
With a number of programs in high-demand fields like health care already in place, Vander Hooven said the college is well-positioned to help displaced workers transition to new careers. The biggest challenge the college will have, he said, is finding space to create expanded capacity for programs.
“Labs weren’t built with social distancing in mind,’’ he said. “They are physically attached to the floor with gas and water hookups so it’s not like you can just slide the tables apart. It really is an interesting time to figure out what the fall semester looks like.’’
For more information about Mount Wachusett Community College, visit https://mwcc.edu/.
MWCC’s main campus is located at 444 Green St., in Gardner. For admissions, call 978-312-9157.