HCCC scholars program recognized nationally

From left: John Urgola, HCCC Director of Institutional Research and Planning; Dr. Gretchen Schulthes, HCCC Director of Advisement; Dr. Christopher Reber, HCCC President; Natalie Jimenez, HCCC student and “Hudson Scholars” participant; and Mackenzie Johnson, Hudson Scholars academic counselor.

Hudson County Community College’s Hudson Scholars program was recognized with the 2023 National Bellwether Award late last month at the 2023 Bellwether College Consortium “Community College Futures Assembly” in San Antonio, Texas.

The award recognizes cutting-edge, trendsetting programs that address critical issues facing community colleges through applicable research and the promotion and replication of best practices in instructional programs and services, workforce development and planning, governance and finance. The award is competitively judged and awarded by peers in leadership positions.

Ten Bellwether Program finalists from across the United States were selected to compete in each category and the selection process included two rounds of judging by peers and academicians in the field. The finalist teams made presentations to a jury of anonymous judges that included community college national association leaders, college leaders, business and technology leaders and national policy influencers.

HCCC was also a top ten finalist in the workforce development category (“Gateway to Innovation” program) and planning, governance and finance category (“Building an Inclusive and Engaged Workforce”). As such, the college was one of only two community colleges in the United States to be invited to compete in all three program categories.

Christopher Reber, HCCC president, led the “Hudson Scholars” team, which included Gretchen

Schulthes, director of advisement; John Urgola, director of institutional research and planning; Mackenzie Johnson, “Hudson Scholars” academic counselor; and Natalie Jimenez, HCCC student and “Hudson Scholars” participant.

“This award is especially meaningful because the Hudson Scholars program reflects our college community’s collective commitment to our students’ success,” Reber said. “We offer heartfelt thanks to the Bellwether College Consortium and to all at HCCC who work every day to provide life-changing opportunities for our students and the people of Hudson County.”

The Hudson Scholars program uses best practices of the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) and the City University of New York (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP). Hudson Scholars provides proactive advisement, financial stipends and early academic intervention to ensure a greater number of students facing financial challenges, language barriers, employment concerns and family responsibilities complete their college education, achieve their goals, and realize their dreams.

The program is open to incoming students enrolled for at least six credit hours of coursework at HCCC including students enrolled in their final semester of English as a Second Language (ESL), and all levels of academic foundations English. Participants have the advantage of meeting regularly with Hudson Scholars academic counselors, whose caseloads are 80% smaller than those of other advisers, and who keep students on track with an early-alert system.

Counselors keep track of academic progress, prompt students to complete assigned tasks, assist students in setting academic and career goals, monitor outside factors that may impact students’ progress and make referrals to on-campus services such as tutoring and mental health counseling.

Scholars are further incentivized to engage in high-impact practices each month and receive monthly stipends of $125 to $250 for completing designated tasks and achieving important academic milestones. The stipends are used for books and supplies, food and bills, transportation, housing, tuition, childcare and other purposes.

HCCC formulated the program to initially serve 800 students — four times the number of students enrolled in the HCCC EOF program. The number of students in the program has since increased to 1,700, and by meeting or exceeding retention benchmarks, the revenue from increased retention has exceeded program costs (salaries/benefits, stipends) that were initially funded using federal stimulus dollars.

“The outcomes of this program are beyond expectations,”. Reber said. “It is immensely gratifying to see the differences the program model is making for our students.”

Some of the most significant outcomes include:

Students participating in the program are happy with its effect on their quest for a college degree.

“I really enjoyed the program, and I felt the one-on-one contact made me more confident,” Hudson Scholars participant Christina Arteta, who is set to graduate in May, said. “I felt like someone cared and I was not just another student.”

This is not the first time “Hudson Scholars” has received national recognition.

The League for Innovation in the Community College honored the program with that organization’s 2021-22 Innovation of the Year Award.

HCCC is further scaling the scholars model to all students served by the college over the next two years.

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