By Kristle Blais
In 1968 attending college seemed like a distant dream for Susan Costa.
Without college preparatory classes and the means to pay, Costa believed that her choices were limited.
College Now, a new program at then Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute, would prove to be the catalyst for a life-changing experience.
“Coming out of high school, without any prospects, and wanting so desperately to go to college, College Now was like a miracle,” said Costa, a member of the program’s first graduating class.
Created 50 years ago by a faculty task force inspired by the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., College Now facilitates access to higher education for high school graduates who demonstrate the desire and ability to attend college, but who require additional support to reach their full potential.
The task force, chaired by Professor of Philosophy Dr. Lura Teeter, sought to keep Dr. King’s dream alive in the SouthCoast region by placing higher education within reach for local students who faced cultural, economic or educational barriers. Following a community-wide fundraising initiative and outreach to prospective students, College Now launched in September 1968 with 31 students from southeastern Massachusetts. Faculty members volunteered as mentors and counselors to College Now students, provided tutoring, guidance, and other support to help overcome obstacles that could complicate a successful college career.
College Now helped Costa, a New Bedford native, realize her dreams. She was able to satisfy academic requirements, become an involved student leader on campus, and complete a bachelor of science degree in accounting.
“Had it not been for College Now, I would not be where I am today,” Costa said, who initially pursued a career in finance at State Street Bank. She was later drawn back to campus as an administrator in Student Affairs, eventually serving as Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs until retiring in 2007.
The motivation to succeed
Today, College Now continues to make a college degree a reality for students who struggle academically or financially, or who need additional guidance. The program receives more than 700 applications and admits 125 students each year. Applicants must live in Massachusetts, be either a U.S. citizen or a permanent U.S. resident, and have a minimum high school GPA of 2.0. Applicants must also meet federal guidelines for low income or be the first in their family to complete a four-year degree. A special track is available for students with an interest in science, technology, engineering or math.
An intensive semester-long academic program is designed to help College Now students transition to college. Working with peer mentors, tutors, and counselors, they develop such skills as time management, study habits and goal setting. Students who successfully complete the program then enroll in a specific major.
Last year, 85 percent of College Now students successfully completed the program. Thirty-four students earned Talent Merit Scholarships and several others received awards and scholarships for their academic performance.
“These students prove that their socioeconomic backgrounds or prior academic performances do not define their potential to become educated citizens,” said College Now Director Craig Elkins.
“Their motivation to succeed far surpasses the grades on their high school transcripts.”
Helping students realize their dreams
Aldina Vicente ’18, a first-generation college student from Brockton, knows this first hand. When she came from Cape Verde at age 10, adapting to a new culture created challenges in school.
“My grades weren’t good and I didn’t have the resources or guidance in high school to see that college could be an option for me,” Vicente said. “College Now helped me to see that I had the ability to be successful.”
She is now majoring in psychology in the Honors Program and recently studied abroad in Germany. Because of her experiences with College Now, she will pursue a master of education so she can help others realize their dreams.
“I want other students to know that it is possible,” Vicente said.
For students like Rashelle Noncent ’18, from Brockton, College Now can make the difference between just getting by and getting the most out of college. The program helped her to maintain focus and earn better grades.
“It was tough to adjust to college life,” Noncent said. “The resources were there, but it was up to me to open up to my counselors and let them know what I needed help with.”
Last summer, Noncent advanced her pursuit of a career in criminal justice with an internship in the Palm Beach County Courthouse in Florida “I learned so much about the court system and established great relationships with court deputies, judges and lawyers,” she said.
Vicente and Noncent are peer mentors in College Now, proving to other students that they can be successful in a four- year college. “College Now students recognize the opportunity given to them and demonstrate the value of that to other students in the program,” said Carol Spencer-Monteiro, assistant vice chancellor for student success.
“College Now was life changing for me,” Noncent said. “When I work with other College Now students, I try to motivate them to believe that they can achieve this dream too.”
More information: College Now