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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Community college honors program could rival four-year university experience

Tina Forbes

Mikhala Eule, of Merrimack, has been enrolled at Nashua Community College since last fall.

She’s one of the students who joined the honors program at the school, majoring in liberal arts with a science concentration. While Eule’s preparing to head into her final year at the school, she’s researching which four-year school to transfer her credits to. ...

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Mikhala Eule, of Merrimack, has been enrolled at Nashua Community College since last fall.

She’s one of the students who joined the honors program at the school, majoring in liberal arts with a science concentration. While Eule’s preparing to head into her final year at the school, she’s researching which four-year school to transfer her credits to.

“The honors classes tend to be smaller, there’s a lot more discussion, less lecture – a lot more interaction between students and teachers,” she said. There’s also a greater focus on student-created projects, she said.

NCC had honors courses in the past, but the program came together about four years ago. The school now has the only honors program in the state’s community college system, although other schools have honors courses, said College President Lucille Jordan.

“The demand was so great,” Jordan said. “We have freshmen (with GPAs) well above 4.0. They have a plan: stay at home, keep debt in order.”

The program is part of the school’s evolution – it has grown from 450 students in 1997 to 2,500 students.

And over the years, Nashua Community College has grown to fill a need in the higher education community by trying to offer affordable, quality, college-level courses close to home.

As the cost of four-year college has grown, so has the interest in NCC, Jordan said.

“We realized we had a responsibility; we needed to fill that gap,” Jordan said. She said even students with great grades still can fall short of financial award goals. “They’re starting school already in debt.”

When students stay local, it reduces their debt, Jordan said. And they can look forward to transferring to schools such as Mount Holyoke, Johns Hopkins, or Cornell.

Susan Smith, an admissions representative at NCC, said high school students can feel pressured into heading straight to a four-year college and the consequence can be high debt and little direction.

As a substitute teacher for Hollis Brookline, Smith saw many students go off to college – and then return home before graduating.

“I started to see many kids coming home … 90 percent of the time for financial reasons. The money ran out,” she said. “Many students will get accepted and not have the financial support.”

At the community college level, students also can explore academic options for a much smaller investment, she said.

“They can take care of their general education requirements and match them precisely with their four-year college goals,” she said.

Eule is using her time at NCC to decide on which area of science to concentrate, although she said she’s leaning toward chemistry.

Honors classes cap at 15 students, but the program can expand with student need, officials said.

“Another class would be added if we have to. The only thing that would stop us is running out of (physical) space,” Jordan said.

Adult learners also can participate. More evening classes are planned as the program grows, Smith said. Interested students can contact Smith at sasmith@ccsnh.edu, visit the school, sit in on a class or meet with Meidell.

“We’re a small enough program to cater to requests,” Smith said.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).