‘Remarkable’ enrollment increase continues for second semester at GCC

Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt, pictured in August 2023, says “there is so much exciting momentum from the current [state] administration around helping students achieve community college credentials.”

Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt, pictured in August 2023, says “there is so much exciting momentum from the current [state] administration around helping students achieve community college credentials.” STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-10-2024 5:00 PM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College saw a 13% increase in enrollment this semester, marking the college’s second consecutive semester of enrollment growth after a more than 10-year decline.

By the end of 2023, 150 more students enrolled in the spring semester than they did the year prior, continuing a positive growth trend that began in the fall 2023 semester when the college saw a nearly 10% increase in enrollment.

“This achievement is, without question, remarkable, given the climate and the pronounced enrollment decline the college has experienced,” GCC Provost Charles Jordan said in a statement.

GCC interim Dean of Enrollment Management Patrick Tanner attributed the college’s upward enrollment trend to recent improvements at the college, including an enhanced student schedule system, wraparound student support services aimed at helping students succeed, and a faster and more intuitive application process that was rolled out last summer. The enrollment boost also comes following last year’s launch of the MassReconnect program, allowing tuition-free community college enrollment for eligible residents ages 25 and older.

Tanner said he expects the increased volume of new students at GCC will fuel workforce and economic development in Franklin County. He added that the school’s growing student body will also correspond with increased staff hiring, and might help the college grow its campus — either virtually or physically.

“We’re looking internally in terms of staffing needs, whether that’s faculty, staff or otherwise to be able to support all of these students. We think about the admission staff, we think about the advising staff, especially, but there are lots of other areas of the institution,” Tanner said. “This also helps us to think about where the Greenfield Community College experience can be obtained. Whether that’s online or in other physical locations, it’s clear that there’s a need, so our work right now really is to understand and respond to that need.”

Greenfield’s rising enrollment numbers mirror a state trend, as public colleges across Massachusetts begin to peak upward after nearly a decade of decline.

According to data gathered by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, public colleges’ enrollment rates rose by roughly 3% across Massachusetts in the fall of 2023 after a gradual decline in enrollment since 2014. In the fall of 2020 alone, the department reported a loss of nearly 12,000 students across the state, a roughly 7% dip.

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In August 2023, Gov. Maura Healey’s administration launched the MassReconnect program, which allows eligible residents ages 25 and older to enroll in community college tuition-free. All 15 of the state’s community colleges were awarded $100,000 to implement MassReconnect on their campuses. According to GCC leadership, the number of students ages 25 and older enrolled at the college grew 30% compared to last spring.

“There is so much exciting momentum from the current administration around helping students achieve community college credentials,” GCC President Michelle Schutt said in a statement. “MassReconnect is just the first of what I believe will be multiple support programs coming from Beacon Hill, which will provide Massachusetts residents with the means to earn their college degrees and elevate their socioeconomic status.”

In addition to increased enrollment, GCC has also seen a 41% growth in its number of applicants since last year’s spring semester.

“This is a testament to the tremendous work that goes on at all community colleges in the commonwealth, but specifically highlighting the faculty and staff here at GCC,” Tanner said. “I think our calling card at this point is both our care for students and our desire to see them generate their own successes.”

Reach Anthony Cammalleri at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.