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New Support Program at MCLA Helps Students Navigate College

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A new program at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is designed to empower first-generation, income-eligible, and students with disabilities to explore and reach personal goals.
Navigating college isn't easy for everybody. Many students may be the first of their family to attend higher education or do not have the luxury of purely focusing on their education without interruption.
But a new TRIO Student Support Services' RISE Program hopes to alleviate a little bit of pressure for some students.
"We are what you need us to be to get through college," Director of Student Support Services Alicia Reddin said. "Having someone in your corner to help walk you through and to help navigate the system is extremely important and can drastically change an outcome."
Reddin said the federal TRIO program has existed in some form since the 1960s. The college's chief diversity officer saw a need at MCLA so the school applied.
The program launched in January
RISE stands for Respect, Inclusivity, Scholarship, and Equity — Reddin said these are the values of the program.
RISE offers a multitude of services including academic tutoring, degree planning, graduate school consulting, personal development, career guidance, and college success workshops.
Reddin said this breaks down into a variety of different services and activities: Staff can help students navigate the tricky financials of college or help them find housing, food security benefits, and other resources.
"When you walk into the office we sit down with you. We see what you need and then we take it from there," she said. 
She said the RISE offices are also just a nice place to hang out, study, or de-stress. 
Students can qualify under three categories: They can be first-generation college students, have a disability, or meet income eligibility.
"Any of that three, all of those three, any combination of those," Reddin said. 
She said the program is designed to work across all student populations and those who struggle often fall under one or all of the eligibility categories. 
"Looking at some of the students that were on academic probation, a lot of time they were first-generation students," she said. "A lot of students who were not completing fell under one or all three of these categories."
Reddin said they help many nontraditional students. Many of them have children of their own or are caretakers of a family member. She said staff help students who work several jobs and those who have inconsistent housing.
"Our students are unique. ... we don't only work with our traditional students where college is their whole life but students across populations," she said. 
She said she has helped students, who have to decide between feeding their families or purchasing textbooks, find cheaper digital options. She said she even given one homeless student some bed sheets from her own home after finding them a place to stay.
"If that is what we need to do and who we need to be, that that is who will be for you," she said. "These are people here who are genuinely involved." 
Reddin herself was a nontraditional student and said a similar program would have completely changed the trajectory of her life.
"I went to college right out of high school and dropped out after a few weeks because I didn't have enough financial aid to cover living there," she said. "My parents didn't know what Parent Plus loans were and where to go for guidance."
She maxed out student loans and spent two years working toward an unneeded master's degree made moot once she received her doctorate.
Reddin said the program team members come from similar backgrounds and faced their own struggles. She said they know more than most how to help.
"We can quickly identify problems in our student population and raise them up very fast," she said. "We can mobilize quickly." 
The program is on a five-year grant cycle and the college can reapply. It has the capacity to serve 160 students a year and students can roll into successive years.
Reddin said they do have some goals to aim for. These include: 
Objective A: Retention in Postsecondary Education: 70 percent of all participants served by the RISE project will persist from one academic year to the beginning of the next academic year or will have earned a bachelor's degree at the grantee institution during the academic year.
Objective B: In Good Academic Standing at Academic Institution: 77 percent of all enrolled RISE participants served will meet the performance level required to stay in good academic standing at the grantee institution.
Objective C: Completion of a Baccalaureate Degree: 40 percent of new participants served each year will graduate from the grantee institution with a bachelor's degree or equivalent within six years.
Reddin plans to aim for 100 percent across the board.
Reddin said she uprooted her entire life to move to North Adams to run the program. She said she both loves the city and MCLA, which have stopped at nothing to make sure the program is a success. 
"I genuinely feel that MCLA not only needs this program but wants this program," she said. "Everybody that I have met with has been so supportive and wants to do everything. Every time we hit a roadblock — boom — someone from the administration is there."
She went on to say the program works well in such a small city that is such a tight-knit community.
"We are not a college town, we are a college within a town. We share this community with the natives of North Adams," she said. "We truly are a community and this is such a small area. We are not only sharing the campus, we are sharing our entire worlds when you live in a town like this. So do you want to do that in a good way or not?"
Students can sign up online or by contacting the office. Referrals can also be made.

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