By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — The Department of Higher Education has named Northern Essex Community College a statewide model for preparing Latinos for college success.
Between the fall of 2011 to 2012, Latino enrollment at the school increased 16.2 percent. Hispanics at the college make up 34 percent of the student population, a 76 percent increase in five years. In addition, Latinos are graduating at a large rate, from just 98 in 2007–08 to 281 in 2012–13, a 187 percent increase.
“We’re very pleased with the progress we’re making, but we have a long way to go,” said NECC president Lane Glenn.
He credits the surge in enrollment, retention and graduation rates to more outreach at Lawrence High School and in the community.
Over the past two years, enrollment counselors have visited Lawrence High once a month, instead of every semester, as was done in the past. There, the counselors talk to students about the college, what degrees they can earn, career opportunities and financial aid.
“Financial aid is a huge issue because, for a lot of students, college can seem unattainable. If (the students) don’t know about all the financial aid available to them, we try to get that message out there — that there are scholarship opportunities,” he said.
“The receiver (Jeff Riley) has been a good thing for Lawrence, as he encourages collaboration, allowing us to do more work with the high school’s principal, which is starting to pay off,” he said.
Glenn said 50 percent of Lawrence High School graduates attend Northern Essex.
“The message across all families and cultures are pretty clear. Today if want to get anywhere in America, you have to get a college education,” he said.
Glenn said the college also has a relationship with Central Catholic and Notre Dame Cristo Rey high schools, both in Lawrence.
“This is the fastest growing population in the last 10 years,” Glenn said as the reason why the college is focusing on Hispanic students. “This is not just for the future of the students, but the work force and our country.”
Northern Essex was one of only three schools in Massachusetts — and the only public campus — to receive a federal Title V grant for Hispanic Serving Institutions which helped fund a Student Success Center in Lawrence.
Kartletty Medina is a retention counselor at the Student Success Center.
“We’re that connecting piece, to help them get what they need to be successful in college,” Medina said.
She said half a dozen students stop by daily.
“You feel great because you see it in the smiles of students who didn’t think they could make it, and they have turned it around,” Medina said. “I can identify with those emotions and help them prove to themselves that they can make it.”
The center has been a godsend for Emmanuel Hernandez, 21, of Lawrence. After getting his GED through Job Corps, he was encouraged to enroll at Northern Essex. He stops by the career center daily to get advice on career choices, do his homework and talk.
“It’s good to come because it’s a good environment where everyone is willing to learn,” said Hernandez, a liberal arts student.
Staff members at the center also help students with college resources, child care, housing, financial, and mental health issues. The center has a faculty mentor program focusing on at-risk students, and a Summer Bridge Program to prepare Latino high school grads for their freshman year in college.
Glenn said the Student Success Center has earned its name. Students who used the center’s resources from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2013 had a 78.2 percent retention rate. Students who did not attend regularly had a 65.8 percent retention rate.
“I’d be lost without them, otherwise I’d be drifting off,” Hernandez said. “This is literally a second home for me. They help me put things in perspective and I’m helpful for that.”