It’s been a Revolutionary week at Northern Essex Community College.
Happy New Year!
No, you didn’t miss Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas; and the calendar in my iPhone is working just fine, thank you.
Wednesday was the first day of classes for the 2016-17 academic year at NECC. More than 6,000 students poured onto our Haverhill and Lawrence campuses—many of them for the first time—and for those of us in education, that always feels a bit like a clean, brand new page on the calendar.
Two notable sights on this New Year’s Day:
The Spurk Building is the main classroom building on NECC’s Haverhill campus, accommodating about 65% of all the classes offered there. While the building is offline this year, undergoing a desperately needed $15 million renovation, classes are being held in lots of new places, including the first floor of the brand new Opportunity Works building on Kenoza Street, just across from NECC’s baseball field.
It’s a bit of a hike from the rest of campus (though not any farther than your likely parking spot outside Fenway or at the Rockingham Mall); so to help get students, faculty, and staff back and forth as safely and swiftly as possible, Director of Administrative Services Michael Pierce has arranged for shuttles to drive in constant loops around the campus offering rides, and converted a short stretch of College Avenue into a one-way street, with a new pedestrian walkway (pictured here) leading out to the HOW (Haverhill Opportunity Works) classrooms and offices.
Still not sure where you’re going? Check the online map, or download the NECC app!
And over on the Lawrence campus we have been busily preparing for our “Communiversity” students who will be taking classes at NECC, on their way to bachelor’s degree programs from our partners, Regis College and Lyndon State College.
Their banners now proudly line Common Street alongside NECC’s, letting everyone know that Lawrence is becoming a College Town!
One Door Closes, Another Opens
While nearly 20 million college students returned to campuses across the country this week, close to 40,000 suddenly found themselves with nowhere to go when the chain of ITT Technical Institute for-profit colleges announced on Tuesday that they were permanently closing the doors of their 130 locations.
While the move may have seemed sudden to some, it has actually been a very long time in the making.
Like its fellow for-profit colleges Corinthian, which closed last year, and DeVry and the University of Phoenix, which are embroiled in government investigations and lawsuits now; ITT has been dogged by allegations of deceptive practices and financial fraud for well over a decade.
Back in 2004, ITT briefly had to close several of their schools in eight states when federal agents with search warrants went looking for evidence that the college was falsifying enrollment, dropout rates, job placements and salaries for graduates, and lying to students to get them in the door and take out enormous government-backed loans.
Enrollment had been declining for the past few years, but the end came when ITT’s accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, determined that the school was not in compliance with critical accreditation criteria including, significantly, “institutional integrity.”
On August 25, the U.S. Department of Education prohibited ITT from enrolling any new students who use federal financial aid. Since ITT’s business model relied predominantly on recruiting vulnerable, low-income students into high-cost degree programs using federal financial aid such as Pell Grants and loans, that decree was the school’s death knell.
We may be seeing a desperately needed revolution in regulating American higher education.
After decades of allowing for-profit colleges to pursue predatory practices, by acting more swiftly and decisively to shut them down, the U.S. Department of Education may restore some balance and necessary safeguards to financing a college education.
Nearly all of the students who go to for-profit schools, 96 percent, take out loans to attend. By comparison, only about 13 percent of students at community colleges, 48 percent at four-year public colleges, and 57 percent at four-year private nonprofit colleges borrow to finance their education.
In 2014, for-profit colleges enrolled only about 12% of America’s college students, yet they accounted for 44% of student loan defaults, and thirteen of the 25 colleges and universities that held the most student loan debt were for-profits.
It’s true: Those screaming headlines you’ve been reading about soaring student loan debt and unemployed college graduates have been driven, in large part, by the for-profit college industry, and its day of reckoning seems close at hand.
But back to those 40,000 students who suddenly had no classes to attend this week.
One of the biggest problems with the for-profit college industry, it would seem, is that it frequently must focus more on profit than on educating students. As an example, the thirty largest for-profit institutions spend about 23% of their budgets on marketing and recruitment, and only about 17% on instruction.
And the students they are recruiting are among the most vulnerable in all of higher education. They overwhelmingly fall into one or more of these at-risk categories: first generation, low income, minority, and veterans—many of the same students community colleges specialize in serving.
Which is why when ITT slammed its doors in their students’ faces last Tuesday, NECC and other area community colleges immediately reached out to make sure those students knew our doors were open to them—and that we would do all we could to help them stay on track and complete a degree.
ITT had two locations in Massachusetts, Wilmington and Norwood, serving around 500 students, and those students do have some options.
If they are prepared to sacrifice the credits they have already earned from the shuttered institution, they may be able to have their student loans forgiven.
Or, if they want to press on and complete their education, NECC can review their transcripts and work with them to offer as much credit as possible toward a degree they can use.
We have created a special web page for ITT students seeking more information about these options, and if you know anyone affected by the closure, you can direct them to this page, or to NECC Admissions Director Danny Richer at (978) 556-3700.
By now, even if you are not a fan of hip-hop, Broadway musicals, or U.S. history, you probably still know that Hamilton is the biggest American theatre phenomenon since…well, anything.
Not much compares to the rave reviews, scramble for seats, and cross-generational appeal of this magnum opus from creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Last week, Big Sis T and Little Sis Z and I finally had our chance to see it, and we can confidently report that it is even better than all the hoopla.
Hamilton is epic in its sweep of characters, events, and ideology. From the rumblings of revolution in 1776, to the Battle of Yorktown, the creation of the U.S. Constitution, and that eventual ill-fated duel between the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, and Vice President Aaron Burr; the musical is a powerful tour de force of American history, sung and danced by a multi-racial cast, mostly in their twenties and thirties.
And, like some of the best works of literature, Hamilton tells big, sprawling, heroic stories with universal themes through small, intimate scenes with a few characters—human beings as vulnerable and imperfect as you and I.
We already knew the show backward and forward before taking our seats at the Richard Rodgers Theatre last week. We knew when to expect some of the huge, soaring, heart-racing numbers; where the biggest laughs were going to be; and when the sold-out crowd would most likely be singing along.
But it was those small, intimate scenes, and some unexpected moments, that really blew me away; and one in particular that will be unforgettable.
Soon after the Battle of Yorktown and the defeat of the British forces, Hamilton’s son Phillip, and Burr’s daughter, Theodosia, are born. Each man stands over his child’s crib as they sing a duet, “Dear, Theodosia,” marveling at the miracle of fatherhood, and promising to make the world a better place for them.
Dear Theodosia, what to say to you?
You have my eyes
You have your mother’s name
When you came into the world, you cried and it broke my heart
Sings Burr to his newborn daughter.
There is so much more inside me now
Oh Philip, you outshine the morning sun
When you smile, I fall apart
Hamilton confesses to his son.
The strongest and bravest among us know that feeling of overwhelming love and even helplessness in the presence of our children.
You will come of age with our young nation
We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you
They both vow, echoing the desire of parents everywhere to sacrifice and protect their young sons and daughters.
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you
And you’ll blow us all away
They dream, imagining the potential not only for those precious infants, but for their newborn nation, and all the world.
Sitting there in that moment, marveling at the artistry on stage and the two beautiful, wondrous young ladies sitting next to me, I promise you could not find a happier dad anywhere on Broadway—or beyond.
As you look back on your week, and forward to the one ahead, may you open a door for someone in need, enjoy a child’s smile, and have a Happy New Year!
And if you’d like to learn more about what’s been happening at NECC, please:
Visit the NECC Newsroom
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