Continuing his mission to spend a full day at each of the state’s public colleges and universities, Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago took a whirlwind tour of Mount Wachusett Community College on Thursday, April 14.
The day began at MWCC’s satellite campus in Devens – which rekindled fond memories for the commissioner, who spent several years there as a child when his father was stationed at Fort Devens – and ended at MWCC’s main campus in Gardner with a meeting with the Board of Trustees.
In between, he met with students, faculty, staff, administrators, K-12 partners and business and community leaders, exchanging thoughts and ideas on a wide range of topics including an enhanced K-16 approach toward education, college accessibility, transfer pathways to four-year schools, industry partnerships, MWCC’s new science and technology building under construction and student support services. By late afternoon, he had this to say to college leaders:
“You’re innovative. You are getting it right here,” he told the trustees. “Now we’ve got to learn from your success and scale it up. I need this campus to spread the word about the work you are doing here.”
Under the leadership of President Daniel Asquino, MWCC’s ground-breaking work in dual enrollment, civic engagement, unique K-12 and industry partnerships and wrap-around services have grown into model programs, Dr. Santiago said.
College affordability is on the minds of all students,’ he said, but not just in terms of tuition and fees, but transportation, housing and daycare.
“The campus is well positioned on a number of fronts, he said. “The support services that are provided to students on this campus are superb. The students feel well-served by everyone.”
Earlier in the day, the commissioner met with Mahar Regional School Superintendent Tari Thomas and Mahar administrators for a discussion on the continued success of the Gateway to College program for at-risk students, now in its 10th year, and the Pathways Early College Innovation School, now in its sixth year.
He also met with Fitchburg Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle, Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche, members of MWCC’s Access & Transition team and math faculty for a detailed discussion on college-readiness programs, including MWCC’s Math Modeling program, now offered in several area high schools to help reduce students’ need for math remediation in college.
At lunchtime, the commissioner dined on sandwiches, fruit and potato chips with a group of students that included teenagers in dual enrollment programs, career changers, student leaders and parents juggling family responsibilities, work and academic studies. He listened intently as they shared stories about unique challenges, as well as their career aspirations, and how the college is helping them reach their goals.
“No matter who you are or where you’re coming from, you really find your place here,” said student leader Stevie LaBelle.
During his session with business leaders, the commissioner discussed the significant role community colleges, like Mount Wachusett, play in the state’s economic and civic landscape. Two-thirds of all college students in Massachusetts attend the state’s public institutions, and 90 percent remain in the state after graduating.
“The future of the Commonwealth really is going to rest on campuses like this.”