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Education Equity Focus of Grant to Holyoke Community College

HOLYOKE — When Holyoke Community College (HCC) unveiled its four-year strategic plan in 2018, one of its top priorities was increasing success rates of students of color. That aligned with goals established by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE), which in the same year made equity the top policy and performance objective for the entire state public higher-education system.

To support those ongoing efforts, the Lumina Foundation recently awarded the Massachusetts DHE grants worth $1.2 million, with half the money earmarked for six state colleges and universities, including HCC.

HCC’s $100,000 award will be used to further the work of its Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion task force and expand mentorship programs that focus on students of color.

“We have the distinct pleasure of residing in a diverse community where 50% of the residents are Latinx,” President Christina Royal said during a virtual panel discussion that coincided with the announcement of the Lumina grants. “At Holyoke Community College, our mission to educate, inspire, and connect is grounded in the idea that we are of and exist for the communities we serve. Leveraging that cultural wealth is pivotal to moving the equity agenda forward.”

Through its Talent, Innovation, Equity, and Equity Institution grants, the Lumina Foundation seeks to dismantle systemic barriers to student success and degree attainment, particularly for black and Latinx students. Massachusetts was only the fifth state to receive grants from the Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation based in Indianapolis.

“Access to quality higher education can help set students up for a lifetime of success, but systemic inequities in our higher-education system prevent far too many black and brown students from achieving their full potential,” said U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who joined the Sept. 10 virtual gathering along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “It’s critical that our campuses reflect the diversity of our communities and that our colleges and universities are equipped with the resources, data, and cultural competency to support students of every background.”

During the panel discussion, Royal noted that Latinx students participating in HCC’s ALANA Men in Motion program show a fall-to-fall retention rate of 75%, compared to 45% for Latinx students not participating in ALANA, an academic support, mentoring, and counseling program for African-American, Latino, Asian, and Native American men.

“There’s a great deal of research to show that mentorship has positive academic benefits for students of color,” she said, “so we want to build on the successes of HCC programs like ALANA to provide students of color more vehicles to be connected with students, alumni, and others like them.”

HCC’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion group focuses on making sure students of color succeed at the same rate as their white peers, using benchmarks such as retention and college completion rates.

“Through the EDI group, we will be training a team of professionals on campus who know how to talk about equity, preach its importance, and execute changes so that equity comes embedded in our culture,” Royal said, “so it is what we live and breathe.”

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