UMass receives $330,000 grant from the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation to expand early college in Massachusetts

Proposed Commonwealth Collegiate Academy would offer high school students a free one-year head start on earning a college degree

The University of Massachusetts has received a $330,000 grant from the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation to support development of a pilot “early college” program that would provide high school students a free one-year head start on earning a college degree. The planning grant builds on a $70,000 feasibility study for the early college program, also funded by the Smith Family Foundation and conducted by UMass over the past year.

Named the Commonwealth Collegiate Academy (CCA) of the University of Massachusetts, the initiative aims to increase college participation among first-generation, low-income, and students of color. The program will enable students to complete 30 credits – or one full year – of UMass courses while simultaneously satisfying high school graduation requirements. The CCA would expand upon the University’s current early college efforts.

Unlike most early college programs in Massachusetts and across the country, the CCA will not be constrained by geography. Instead, curriculum will be delivered through an innovative “live” technology that connects UMass instructors to high school students in real-time. The students will receive university lectures during the regular school day and will be supported by teams of high school instructors who will provide labs, discussion sections and other face-to-face academic interactions.

The planning grant will support partnership building, training, and outreach activity with UMass campuses and partner high schools. The initiative will then seek additional grant funding under the state’s early college program to fund the instruction for 500 students in the SouthCoast and Merrimack Valley regions. 

Currently, 50 approved Massachusetts high schools partner with 22 higher education institutions to serve about 5,400 early college students. More than half of all Massachusetts early college students identify as African American/Black or Hispanic/Latinx, and many of them are the first in their families to attend college. However, more than 80 percent of Massachusetts high school students do not have access to an approved early college program, and few of those students live within reasonable travel distance to a higher education institution.

“Keeping higher education opportunity affordable and accessible requires new and innovative strategies,” UMass President Marty Meehan said. “With the Commonwealth Collegiate Academy, we want to build on existing partnerships and build new ones to lower the barriers that are preventing too many young people from achieving their college aspirations.”

Katherine S. Newman, UMass System Chancellor for Academic Programs & Senior Vice President for Economic Development said: “The creation of the Commonwealth Collegiate Academy is consistent with the University’s mission of providing broad access to the life-changing benefits provided by a college degree. We are particularly pleased to be able to encourage many more students who will be the first in their families to attend college as well as those from low-income households.”

“We are thrilled to see the development of a virtual model that can bring Early College into new communities while simultaneously meeting the state’s high bar for quality,” Erika Giampietro, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Alliance for Early College, said. “The Commonwealth Collegiate Academy can help make meaningful progress towards our goal of serving 45,000 students with high-quality Early College and ultimately closing a quarter of the state’s college success equity gap.”

“This announcement, combined with the commitment from UMass to create this innovative model in support of the state’s students, is welcome and adds an important element to the growth of Early College in Massachusetts,” Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education Executive Director Ed Lambert said. “The delivery of high-quality content in accelerated career-themed pathways is something that the state’s business leaders strongly support. Early College works and scaling up this evidence-based practice can only happen with this type of creativity and partnership.”

Program highlights:

  • The CCA seeks to provide high school students with the opportunity to gain college credits while in high school via synchronous online courses.
  • The program will be offered free of charge to high school students, thereby lowering the cost of a college degree.
  • All early college courses in this program will be UMass college courses taught by UMass instructors.
  • Support, tutoring, and advising will be provided by partner high school staff members working in close collaboration with UMass staff members.
  • The program would berolled out over a four-year period, beginning as soon as fall 2022.
  • The first phase of the pilot will include UMass Dartmouth and UMass Lowell, with UMass Amherst and UMass Boston joining the pilot later.
  • Following an initial pilot phase, full enrollment in the CCA is projected to grow to 25,000 students statewide.

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