LAWRENCE — Johanna Beltre of Lawrence will finish her bachelor's degree in just two semesters at Cambridge College, thanks to a partnership at Northern Essex Community College.

"This has put me so much closer to pursuing my dream of becoming a Lawrence Public School teacher," she said Thursday at an event announcing the partnership. "I can live, go to school, and work here in Lawrence."

Beltre got her associate's degree from NECC this spring, and is on track to graduate with a bachelor's degree in early childhood education and care from Cambridge College next year.

On Thursday, NECC announced a partnership with Cambridge College that will allow NECC associate degree graduates to transfer into bachelor's degrees in education, psychology and management, with an 18 percent tuition discount.

The partnership is a "recognition that prosperity ought to be spread more equally," said NECC President Lane Glenn.

"Geography is destiny," Glenn said, noting that most NECC students come from within 5 miles of each campus. "Gateway cities like this are challenged that way," he said, referencing barriers to education Merrimack Valley students face, such as access to transportation and balancing job and family commitments.

Cambridge College, a private nonprofit college based in Boston, has had a campus in Lawrence since 2003. Last year, they moved to the Riverwalk on Merrimack Street.

"Cambridge College, NECC and the city of Lawrence and its leadership share a commitment to equal access to education," said Cambridge College president Deborah Jackson, "We talk about the glass ceiling, this is like a big brick wall."

Cambridge College is the latest college to formally partner with NECC to offer bachelor programs.

In September, NECC announced a partnership with Regis College, a private Catholic college in Weston, Massachusetts, and Lyndon State College, in Lyndonville, Vermont.

Those two schools had been offering bachelor programs at NECC for students with an associate's degree for the past two years.

Jessica King-Green, a NECC Class of 2015 graduate, came to Lawrence from the Dominican Republic when she was 18. 

"I didn't speak English at all, I couldn't say 'good afternoon,'" she said. 

She said she enrolled at NECC with their English as a Second Language program, just bought a house and got married last year, and decided to continue her education at Cambridge College to get a bachelor's in health care management.

"I want to say, right away I'm going for my master's."

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