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QCC receives $2.3M federal grant to improve retention

By Scott O’Connell

Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER - Quinsigamond Community College has received a $2.3 million federal grant intended to bolster the school’s efforts to improve student retention.

According to Luis Pedraja, Quinsigamond’s president, the college specifically wants to increase its combined retention/transfer rate from the current 63 percent to 69 percent in four years.

“(Massachusetts Education) Secretary (James) Peyser has said that’s ambitious for us,” he said. “But I’d rather be ambitious than conservative - any success we have is translated to our students.”

The college has already embarked on several initiatives aimed at improving student retention, including the school’s new Student Success Center, which centralized support services for students. The new Title III grant, which comes from the U.S. Department of Education, will enable Quinsigamond to hire new staff to oversee those efforts the school will add a new “student success navigator,” for instance - as well as invest in new technology to better track students’ progress and intervene in potential dropout cases.

About $45,000 of the college’s annual $450,000 award from the grant will also be dedicated to funding student scholarships, according to Mr. Pedraja.

“We had already committed to doing some of this work” on improving retention within the college’s budget, he said. “What this (grant) does is energize the process. We’ll be able to do it quicker, and with less impact to the other areas of the college.”

Like many community colleges, Quinsigamond struggles to retain students, who often have other work and family obligations apart from their studies. In 2016, the college was able to retain nearly 54 percent of its 787 full-time, firstyear, degree-seeking students that year, according to the state’s records - down from the most recent high of almost 60 percent in 2009.

“It’s not like our students come right out of high school, stay in a dorm, and take a full-time (course) load,” Mr. Pedraja said of the population Quinsigamond serves. Many of those students, he added, need extra support to stay on track and earn their degree.

The president said the federal government has recognized the college’s efforts to improve student retention and persistence, however, which is why it awarded Quinsigamond the grant, which the school had unsuccessfully applied for last year as well. “We’ve been working on this for a while,” he said of the college’s attempt to secure that funding.

The grant represents a relatively large sum of money for the college, which this year is receiving $21.5 million in the state budget for operating expenses.

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