Earlier this year, Roxbury Community College sophomore Roy Kalu attended Dropout Academy, a program available at his school that invited Black and Hispanic male students to talk about race, mental health, financial literacy, and life.
Kalu recalls telling Dropout Academy founder Kurt Faustin, who ran the workshop, that his goal is to earn enough money so his mother can retire.
“Kurt told me, ‘what are steps you’re going to take to make that goal achievable?’ ” Kalu said in an interview. “Some people talk about their dreams, while others work for their dreams.” Kalu said Faustin’s words inspired him to work harder. He is returning to the program as a peer mentor this semester and plans to graduate in May with an associate’s degree in information systems technology.
In 2021, the Legislature created a grant program called SUCCESS, Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services. Every community college received money to provide services like Dropout Academy to help vulnerable students: those who are low-income, first-generation, minority, LGBTQ, or have disabilities.
Programs like these are desperately needed, given Massachusetts’ dismal rate of community college completion, particularly among minority students. While it is too early to measure the impact on graduation rates, data from the program’s first year are promising. Governor Maura Healey is proposing expanding funding from $14 million this year to $18 million next fiscal year. Lawmakers should agree while continuing to monitor the program to ensure it leads to higher graduation rates.
According to 2023 Lumina Foundation data, six years after entering college, 57 percent of Massachusetts students had obtained a degree but only 42 percent of Black students and 29 percent of Hispanic students had.
At Massachusetts’ community colleges, only 40 percent of those who entered in fall 2016 had completed college six years later, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. While at least half of white and Asian students completed college during that time, only 35 percent of Black students and 33 percent of Hispanic students had. Women were more likely than men to obtain a degree.
Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex Community College, helped develop the idea for SUCCESS and sits on the program’s leadership committee. Glenn argues that community colleges, compared to other sectors of higher education, spend the least money per student while serving students who need the most support. The idea of SUCCESS is to offer personalized attention to the populations most at risk of dropping out. It is modeled after earlier programs, like Massachusetts’ 100 Males to College program, and the federal TRIO program, which gives grants for services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“When community colleges have extra money to do things like this, we do them and it works,” Glenn said.
Early data show an impact. A report from the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, which will be made public later this month, found that more than 460 positions — like coaches, academic advisers, and mentors — were supported by SUCCESS funding and over 6,300 students participated in SUCCESS programs. They were largely first-generation, economically disadvantaged students, with a sizeable share identifying as Black or Hispanic.
Overall, 63 percent of the first cohort of SUCCESS participants remained enrolled in school the following fall (at the community college or elsewhere) or completed their degree, including 66 percent of Black participants and 61 percent of Hispanic or Latino participants. The study also matched nearly 2,000 SUCCESS participants with an equal number of demographically similar peers who did not engage with SUCCESS. Among those groups, 67 percent of SUCCESS participants persisted to the following fall compared to 51 percent of their peers, with some of the biggest differences among men, Black, and Asian students.
At Springfield Technical Community College, assistant dean of student initiatives Miguel Maria said the school sought out Black and Latino men for extra support because of their low graduation rates and used $1 million in SUCCESS money to turn a student club into a formal program. Students were connected with advisers to help with things like course registration and picking a major, and with faculty and peer mentors.
The program was successful enough that the school is now investing money to develop a similar program for women of color. “Having state support to support underrepresented populations is huge,” Maria said.
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