For the past 15 years, Associate Professor Mark Santow (History) has seen the Clemente Course in the Humanities change lives. Starting in Spokane Washington before moving to the SouthCoast and working at UMass Dartmouth, Santow knew the power of the program that gives low-income adults the confidence and the skills they need to transform themselves.
“Clemente provides a supportive and inspiring bridge to college for low-income adults, and it does so through engagement with the humanities. Too often, it is assumed that the study of the humanities isn’t necessary or useful for the economically disadvantaged – but we must expand our definition of what is ‘useful,’” said Santow, who is the Academic Director of the New Bedford and Providence programs. “Recent studies make it very clear that the humanities provide a clear path to lifelong learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving. They also help people feel more connected to their history, their society, and their community.”
The Clemente Course in the Humanities, which was founded in 1996, was designed to give adult learners the opportunity to earn college credits outside of the traditional pathway. According to the Clemente Course website, the average age of a student is 39 and 74% of student households earn less than $30,000 a year. Classes are generally between 15-20 students, offer free on-site childcare, transportation, and school supplies, and are free of charge. This alleviates many of the barriers to educational access for adults.
The core curriculum of all Clemente Courses is Moral Philosophy, Literature, U.S. History, Art History, and Writing. Five years ago, New Bedford became the first Clemente Course in the country to include Public Speaking. Santow believes that another positive of the program is that it exposes students and their families to plays, poetry readings, art museums, lectures, and historical societies, as well as texts and works of art that can help improve their critical reading, writing and thinking skills, and to find meaning in their lives.
In New Bedford, UMass Dartmouth faculty teach all courses and the university awards credit. The New Bedford program, which will start its 14th year this September, is the oldest continuing Clemente Course in the state. “New Bedford benefits from Clemente not only because it increases educational attainment in the city, but also because students who complete the program have a positive impact on their relatives, neighbors, co-workers, and their children,” states Santow. “The typical New Bedford Clemente graduate is a single mom, and it is a powerful thing for their children to see her going to class, studying, and taking the life of the mind seriously.” Over 200 students have come through the New Bedford program. Most have earned college credits, taking them to BCC and UMass Dartmouth, as well as other institutions. Two recent graduates are now full-time scholarship students at UMD; one of them will soon become an English teacher.
In spring 2019, Santow will be running Providence’s first Clemente Course for veterans and their families through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This veteran-focused course will take into account the unique needs and experiences or veterans and prepare them for the workplace and further education opportunities.
The Clemente Course is funded by Mass Humanities, UMass Dartmouth, the Island Foundation, and PACE Inc.