HAVERHILL — Bryan Fernandez of Lawrence was on track to graduate from Northern Essex Community College with his associate's degree, but, because of student debt he incurred during the pandemic, it didn’t look like he would be able to achieve that goal.
Things changed for the 25-year-old and other students struggling with finances, thanks to an infusion of more than $2.58 million from the CARES Act's Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which the college is directing toward various forms of student support.
Fernandez was approved for the school's Finish What You Started grant, which helped him pay for his spring tuition and finish his degree in communications and public relations — with high honors.
“It was a giant weight off my shoulders,” said Fernandez, whose work as a professional photographer had slowed during COVID-19, “I felt like I was getting a break from the universe.”
The college will use the federal money to help current students pay off college debt and cover educational expenses related to the disruption caused by COVID-19 and assist both new and returning students with educational costs for the summer and fall semesters of 2021.
Applications for funding are being considered now, and students have until Sept. 3 to apply.
“Many of our students have been hard hit by the pandemic,” said Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex. “Our hope is that by dedicating these funds to them, we will alleviate some of the financial challenges and help them get back on track with their education.”
This funding is available to students taking credit courses, including high school students in the Early College Program, as well as students taking noncredit courses through Pies de Latinos, the Center for Adult Basic Education and Corporate and Community Education.
Jennifer Mezquita, NECC's vice president of student affairs, encourages students and prospective students to reach out.
"The pandemic has presented many challenges for our students. The good news is that we have resources to help them with some of the financial obstacles they’ve faced," she said.
Community College enrollments have dropped more dramatically than those in any other sector of higher education during the pandemic, according to data recently released by the National Student Clearinghouse.
Undergraduate enrollments across all sectors have decreased by 4.5%, compared to community colleges nationwide which were down 9.5% last fall and 11.3% this spring. Northern Essex is doing better than most, with a 5% decrease in the fall and a 7% decrease in the spring.
“Most of the students who did not arrive on campus this fall because of the pandemic were low-income, first-generation, students of color — the students we need to serve now more than ever,” said Glenn. “If fewer local residents are graduating from college, this will negatively impact our local economy.”
For the past two semesters, 90% of classes at the college have been offered online with just 10% face-to-face. In the fall, at least 25% of classes will be face-to-face, with social distancing and extra safety measures.
To learn more about funding available to new and returning students or programs and courses available this fall, contact Enrollment Services at 978-556-3700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.