How Hudson County Community College’s Hudson Scholars program became a national student success model

Hudson County Community College’s (HCCC) Hudson Scholars program was presented the Bellwether Legacy Award for impacting student success in retention and college completion, particularly for those from traditionally underserved groups.

The award, the highest honor bestowed by the Bellwether College Consortium, is just one of many national accolades Hudson Scholars has received in the past two years. Others include the League for Innovation in the Community College’s 2022 Innovation of the Year Award, Bellwether 2023 Instructional Programs and Services Award and Provident Bank Foundation’s 2023 Signature Grant ($100,000).

Conceived during the COVID-19 pandemic, the holistic Hudson Scholars program combines proactive student support, financial stipends, high-impact educational experiences and high-touch early academic intervention. To date, more than 2,500 HCCC students are benefitting from the program.

The story of Hudson Scholars’ development and significant achievement rates demonstrate how seizing an opportunity to pursue a big idea with imaginative thinking made college retention and completion a reality for far more students than previously imagined.

The challenge

With campuses in Jersey City (the most diverse city in the United States), Union City and Secaucus, HCCC students reflect the ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic and linguistic diversity of New Jersey’s Hudson County. Some 55% of students are Latino, 13% are Black or African American, 12% are white, 8% are Asian and 4% are classified as “other.” Of them, 34% are returning adult learners (aged 25 or older). One-third of all HCCC students were born outside the United States.

Nationally, community college completion ranks far below rates of four-year institutions due to the collective open-access missions of two-year colleges. HCCC students shoulder challenges that often prevent them from completing their degree work.

On average, 77% of HCCC students begin their college education enrolled in developmental math or English coursework, with 23% of those students also enrolled in English as a Second Language. Additionally, a majority of HCCC students report food and housing insecurity, many students work full-time to support their families and 80% of enrolled students receive financial aid.

“We know that empowering more students to earn a college degree is transformational for the students, their families, and the community at large,” HCCC President Christopher Reber said. “By successfully completing their college degree work, students are more likely to earn a family-sustaining wage, which in turn provides potential economic and tax revenue increases on the local, state, and national levels. Hudson Scholars addresses not only student success, but also social justice and equity. For HCCC, taking action to help all students succeed was not a choice, it was an imperative.”

Opportunity arises

Reber is a proponent of the late Sen. Robert Francis Kennedy’s take on the George Bernard Shaw quote: “Some see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’” When the pandemic surfaced, HCCC regrouped and quickly returned on course, balancing new responsibilities in disease migration and tracking while never pausing its student success work. In Spring 2021, the college realized a windfall of COVID federal stimulus funding through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund could be used to build a retention and completion model based on two highly successful programs:

* New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) that serves students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds with individualized advisement, academic support, and financial grants. EOF student are 47% more likely to be retained fall-to-fall, and twice as likely to earn a credential in three years; and

* City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which includes financial incentives, small advising caseloads, and block registration.

The evolution of Hudson Scholars

Reber assembled a leadership team to act as the architects of Hudson Scholars. Team members included Associate Dean of Advisement Gretchen Schulthes and Director of Institutional Research John Urgola. Together, the team set about developing a customized, holistic and sustainable program that would begin within a few short months in fall 2021 and would serve 800 HCCC students, four times the number enrolled in the HCCC EOF program. The program plan included:

  • Hiring five masters-prepared academic counselors who meet with students, work closely with faculty, monitor progress reports, monitor outside factors that may impede students’ progress and make referrals to on-campus services such as tutoring and mental health counseling. These counselors’ caseloads are 80% less than those of other advisers.
  • Engaging faculty to partner with academic counselors, provide students’ progress reports at critical times, act as Hudson Scholars champions and eventually serve as mentors.
  • Planning and creating a customized, easy and accessible reporting tool that prompts faculty to provide feedback on Hudson Scholars students, thereby enabling academic counselors to follow up about needed student interventions in addition to positive reinforcement of students’ progress and success.
  • Establishing incentive engagements for students to earn up to $625 per semester for meeting with their counselors four times each term and completing assigned monthly tasks.
  • Offering experiences such as attendance at Broadway plays, museums, field trips to businesses and others.

Before proceeding, an extensive financial feasibility analysis was conducted to predict whether Hudson Scholars could approximate EOF success on a much larger scale, and potentially pay for itself. The leadership team determined the program must be sustainable, and that leveraging one-time grant funds as seed investment for a program that could self-sustain would be game-changing.

Positive outcomes beyond expectations

Hudson Scholars has grown from an initial cohort of 800 students to more than 2,500 students. The program’s initial two-year investment was $1,054,460. Combined enrolled tuition for fall 2021-spring 2022 totaled $6,260,233, which was $1,376,190 more than expected.

The increase resulted in $321,730 in net revenue. Further, over the last three years, the ratio of HCCC students receiving intensive counselor support increased by 575%, proving the program is now reaching exponentially more students.\


  • Hudson Scholars has achieved a fall-to-fall retention rate of 70%; its students are significantly more likely to be retained and continue their education.
  • Term-to-term persistence rates of Latino students who work with Hudson Scholars counselors increased by over 40%, while Black or African American students increased their likelihood of persisting by over 60%.
  • Hudson Scholars who meet with their counselor monthly are retained for the following semester at a rate of over 90%.
  • Students who worked with their counselor each month during their first academic year passed 93% of their classes while earning a 3.4 cumulative GPA.


  • Fall 2021 Hudson Scholars earning a credential within two years represented a threefold increase compared to students of the same academic profile from Fall 2018 to 2020.
  • The two-year completion rate for traditionally underrepresented (Latin and Black) Hudson Scholars represented a threefold increase compared to 2018-20.
  • Hudson Scholars are effectively graduating within half the time of their historical peers.

“Thank you so much. My time at Hudson was smooth and the resources were amazing. I am in a happy place and going to a university; it’s like a dream come true. I never thought I could do this,” one graduate said.

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