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Free community college initiative popular in western Massachusetts

Part of the Springfield Technical Community College campus.
Part of the Springfield Technical Community College campus.

Community colleges in western Massachusetts say there has been a lot of interest in a new state program which provides free schooling to adults.

Mass Reconnect is open to those 25 and older who have not earned a college degree. The state allotted $20 million for the program in the latest budget. Students must still apply for federal financial aid, and money from Mass Reconnect is meant to cover last-dollar costs, including for remaining tuition expenses, fees, books and supplies.

Patrick Tanner is the interim dean of enrollment management at Greenfield Community College. He said more than 100 students are taking advantage of Mass Reconnect, and many more people have inquired about it.

"We've had hundreds and hundreds of inquiries just here at GCC," Tanner said. "Across the commonwealth, the program has been widely accepted Enrollment is up for a number of reasons, this certainly being one of them."

At Springfield Technical Community College, President John Cook said he will have a better idea later this fall just how many students are using Mass Reconnect, but he said that figure likely is in the “many hundreds.”

Cook said the impacts of Mass Reconnect are already being felt. He said it helps to remove financial barriers for those looking to get their degrees.

"With adults, that's who we're focused on in this case, have so many obligations. Their parents, they're working. When you can take some of that guess work out of the affordability piece for college, this is making a big difference."

Berkshire Community College reported 67 students taking advantage of the new program. At Holyoke Community College that number was over 200.

The new program began only a few weeks before the fall semester, so officials at the schools are hoping Mass Reconnect will continue to grow in the spring semester.

State officials anticipate up to 8,000 students will take advantage of it this academic year. When asked about a current figure statewide figure, officials with the state department of higher education said they would have a better idea late this fall or early this winter.

Among the western Massachusetts community colleges, they report an overall rise in enrollment partially attributable to Mass Reconnect. This comes as the number of students attending school had dropped since the pandemic.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.