Access to education to improve with approval of several programs
PITTSFIELD, MA — Higher education in the Commonwealth has been given a boost with the passage of the state's $56.2 billion budget, which includes several programs designed to increase access to education for all residents. Berkshire Community College (BCC), the first community college established in the Commonwealth and now one of 15 across the state, will directly benefit from the funding directed to these programs.
Of particular importance is a change to the Commonwealth's General Laws that allows undocumented students living in Massachusetts to pay in-state tuition and fees. The Tuition Equity Bill stipulates that such undocumented students must have attended high school in Massachusetts for at least three years and either graduated from a Commonwealth high school or attained an equivalent degree.
We are grateful to the legislature and to Governor Healey for a budget that invests in higher education and programs that help to ensure equitable access and support, especially for students who have been traditionally marginalized. We are particularly excited that the Tuition Equity Bill was approved. We strive every day to be an equitable institution of higher learning, and this bill makes it possible for undocumented students in the Commonwealth to achieve their dreams.
Approved program funding includes:
Early College and Dual Enrollment Programs ($27 million)
Public colleges and universities in the Commonwealth will continue to receive funding for Early College and Dual Enrollment programs. BCC partners with Berkshire County high schools to offer students free tuition and fees for taking up to 15 college credits.
Community College Scholarships in High-Demand Fields ($25 million)
This funding supports students who are enrolled in high-demand career fields, as defined by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development's study on labor market conditions. The Workforce Development and Community Education department at BCC currently offers certificate and training programs in Advanced Manufacturing Technician, Certified Nursing Assistant, Medical Interpreter, Community Health Worker and Phlebotomy Technician.
MassReconnect ($20 million)
MassReconnect, which begins in fall 2023, provides Massachusetts residents ages 25 and older with access to free associate degrees and certificates at community colleges in the Commonwealth. Eligibility is open to those who have not yet earned a college degree or certificate. Tuition, fees, books and supplies are completely covered. BCC has held several information sessions on the program and has seen a tremendous interest from the community.
Scholarships for Community College Nursing Programs ($18 million)
This funding supports scholarships for community college nursing students, plus financial support to the colleges to recruit and retain qualified nursing professionals to teach in nursing programs. BCC's robust nursing program, with several certificates and degrees available, is poised to benefit from this funding.
SUCCESS Programs ($14 million)
All community colleges in Massachusetts will receive funding to continue their Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services (SUCCESS) programs, which focus on vulnerable populations.
Free Community College for All ($12 million)
In a bid to provide free community college to all students by the fall of 2024, the Commonwealth has earmarked funding for institutions to begin planning for such a program, including staffing and system upgrades and the creation of guidelines and implementation measures.