Adult Students Starting College Get a Leg Up with the Tuition-Free
Going to college can be a big step financially and academically for any new student. But, it can be especially intimidating for individuals who have been away from school for a number of years. The Links Program at Middlesex Community College is designed to ease that challenging first step for adults who want to start or return to college.
A tuition-free, start-college partnership program between Middlesex and the Massachusetts Department of Education [now known as the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education], Links was established in 2000 to help adult students launch their college careers with confidence. It is designed to serve individuals who lack some academic or study skills, or those who may not have been in an academic setting recently. MCC’s Links Program provides the opportunity to earn seven to 10 college credits in one or two semesters. Classes are small and backed up by individual guidance and a strong support network.
Ruth Clark, Links Program coordinator, believes that offering a tuition-free program encourages apprehensive students to begin a college career – and helps them gain the confidence to continue on their own. “By investing in students financially, we are sending the message that these students are worth investing in,” said Clark. “And based on their initial success through Links, they are then more willing to invest in themselves, often with financial aid, to continue their college studies.”
Clark and the Links teachers and advisors work together to provide academic counseling, assessment of skills, career guidance and individual support throughout the semester. Students benefit from the 15-person classes comprised entirely of other Links students. “The exclusive cohort of Links students really helps the learning process,” Clark explained. “It creates a supportive environment that is more comfortable, encouraging connections between classmates and communal learning.”
Although there are no age restrictions, Links is intended to serve adult students who have been away from school and would benefit from extra support and direction. Eligible applicants must have a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED), be a Massachusetts resident, and take the MCC college placement tests and place into Basic Writing, Algebra I or both. Once accepted, students take four or five classes: Freshman Seminar for the Adult Learner, a Career Development Seminar, Explorations in Science, and either Basic Writing, Algebra I or both. The program is offered in fall and spring semesters at MCC’s Bedford campus.
Links students can be of varying ages, but most fall into the typical “returning student” age range, said Clark. “We work with 18-, 19- and 20-year olds who have just earned their GEDs. We also have many students who are in their mid-20s up to their 40s and 50s, who want to earn their degree or make a career change.” Many are referred to the program through MCC’s Adult Learning Center, and from adult learning centers in the surrounding area.
“Despite the differences in their ages, most Links students share the common bond of attending college for the first time,” explained Clark. “This creates a group of students with similar academic needs and concerns, who learn a great deal as a cohesive unit – and also from each other. Some of the younger students learn a lot about the work ethic and time management from the older students,” she said. “And the older students often learn how to speak up and recognize the benefits of participating more in class from their younger peers.”
Thanks in large part to this supportive environment, the Links retention rate is high – in a typical semester, anywhere from 84 to 100 percent of students complete the program.
Clark and the Links teachers and advisors take a vested interest in their students, “linking” them to other programs, services and support networks on campus. Clark follows up on students, whether they place into Links or not, directing them to the appropriate departments that can help them achieve their goal of attending college at Middlesex.
Now entering its fourth year, Links can boast that its first two graduates have continued their education and graduated from MCC. Jill Kenyon and Daniel Morrill graduated in June and both are continuing their studies at UMASS Lowell.
Another Links success story is Denise Manseau. After working for 20 years in graphic design, the 44-year-old Billerica resident decided to return to college and applied to the Links Program. Once enrolled, Manseau excelled academically. She continues to take classes at MCC and is simultaneously pursuing her bachelor’s degree in art at UMASS Lowell.
Manseau credits Links with easing her return to school. “Having the support group of Ruth, the other instructors and the students in the program made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone,” she said. “We felt like a team, a tight-knit and very supportive group.”
Fall 2003 Profiles