Hudson County Community College President Christopher Reber and his colleagues seem to subscribe to the thinking of Robert F. Kennedy and George Bernard Shaw: “Some see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’”
Since taking the helm as Hudson County Community College’s sixth president in 2018, Reber has made Student Success and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), overarching priorities. They are the foundation for the college’s updated Mission, Vision and Values statements; Student Success Action Plan; DEI Action Plan; and 2021-24 College Strategic Plan.
“We have made great strides in addressing student support and success by undertaking major initiatives and programs,” Reber said. “We joined Achieving the Dream, the national reform network of high-performing community colleges dedicated to using data and best practices to promote student success and degree completion; instituted the Hudson Helps Resource Center, a compendium of wraparound services, programs, and resources that focus on basic needs beyond the classroom; and formed relationships with community and corporate partners to promote upward social and economic mobility for students and community members.”
The entire HCCC community believed successful practices could be scaled up to ensure that a greater number of students, who face financial challenges, language barriers, employment concerns, and family responsibilities, complete their college educations. With this belief a priority, the college established “Hudson Scholars.”
The program utilizes best practices of New Jersey’s highly successful Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program and the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).
“The retention and completion (graduation) rates for HCCC EOF students are exceptional. The fall-to-spring retention rate for our 2009-2019 EOF cohort of first-time, full-time students was a whopping 92%. Additionally, the completion rates for HCCC EOF students in two-, three-, and six-year terms are consistently three times that of our non-EOF students. The challenge of EOF is that we are provided state funding to serve about 200 students per year, and we need to assist many more times that number,” Reber said.
EOF is a proven program serving New Jersey’s low-income, first-generation college students who demonstrate commitment, motivation, and potential for success.
EOF has a storied history. Following the Summer 1967 riots in Newark, New Jersey’s first Chancellor of Higher Education, Ralph A. Dungan, sent a memorandum to the presidents of all New Jersey institutions of higher education. In the memo, Dungan – who served as Special Assistant to President John F. Kennedy, and United States Ambassador to Chilé under President Lyndon Johnson – outlined a program of special assistance to men and women from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. There was great enthusiasm for the proposal, particularly at those institutions participating in Upward Bound, the federally supported program that prepared high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds for college. Legislation to establish EOF was sponsored by then-freshman legislator Thomas Kean. The program has been an enormous success in New Jersey for more than 50 years.
EOF’s exceptionally successful strategies include pre-college advisement, immersive summer onboarding of new students, basic skills testing, systematic retention efforts and high-touch coaching and mentoring, peer counseling and tutoring, academic support courses, high-impact learning experiences, multicultural curricula and human relations programming, student leadership development, financial support, and outcomes-based program evaluation, among others.
Now nearing its 15th anniversary, ASAP serves students at nine CUNY community and other colleges in all five New York City boroughs. ASAP is designed to assist 50% of students in attaining an associate degree within three years by providing academic, social and financial support.
“We analyzed EOF and ASAP and determined that more of our students needed a program providing them with that same kind of holistic assistance,” Dr. Gretchen Schulthes, HCCC associate director of Advisement and Transfer, said.
“Ideally, we need to scale up these proven strategies to all Hudson County Community College students. We decided to use a portion of the funding the College received from COVID-19 related federal stimulus dollars as seed money to develop a customized, holistic and sustainable HCCC program we call ‘Hudson Scholars’.”
Utilizing some key EOF and ASAP best practices, HCCC formulated the “Hudson Scholars” program to initially serve almost 800 students – four times the number of students currently enrolled in the HCCC EOF program, impacting nearly 1,000 HCCC students on the college’s journey to involve all students in this program eventually.
“Hudson Scholars” is open to incoming students enrolled for at least nine credit-hours of coursework at HCCC, including students in their final semester of English as a Second Language (ESL), and all levels of academic foundations English.
Working closely with faculty, who provide progress reports on “Hudson Scholars” students through a home-grown early-alert system, “Hudson Scholars” academic counselors assist students in setting academic and career goals; monitoring outside factors that may impact students’ progress; and making referrals to on-campus services such as tutoring and mental health counseling. “Hudson Scholars” students are further incentivized to participate in high-impact practices each month, and receive stipends of $125 to $250 for completing designated tasks and achieving important academic milestones.
“Hudson Scholars” student Latisha Straker is a 26-year-old business administration major who looks forward to working for a Fortune 500 company and making a difference in her community. She credits the program with helping her stay on top of her coursework by texting and emailing about assignments and deadlines.
“HCCC wants you to learn, and they go step-by-step in helping you understand challenging assignments and assisting with any difficulties encountered in school,” she said. “’Hudson Scholars’ also helped me financially by providing a monthly stipend that aids in paying for books, bus fare, food and minor bills.”
Early outcomes of the project are exceedingly positive and indicate the program may be sustained and grown beyond the period of grant funding through its impact on student retention and the resulting increased revenue.