Category: Blog

Fall-to-Spring Persistence Rate Dips Slightly

Sixty-seven percent of the students from six Alliance Districts in Greater Hartford persisted from fall 2021 to spring 2022 in their first year of Capital or Manchester Community College. This figure is not ideal, but still encouraging given the nationwide pandemic-related persistence declines: In fall of 2020, the national community college persistence rate into spring 2021 averaged 58.5%, which represented a 3.5% percentage point drop from the previous year, reports the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Last year, 71% of the Hartford Public Schools graduates who attended CCC or MCC persisted from their first semester in the fall of 2020 to a second semester in the spring of 2021, while this year’s cohort had a 67% persistence rate. (This year was the first time Achieve Hartford offered the College Persistence Program to students from five Hartford-area towns, so there’s no prior-year data.)

The College Persistence Program pairs peer mentors who are upperclassmen from the same college with first-year students to help them acclimate to college. It grew out of a need identified by the ALL IN! Coalition four years ago: CCC and MCC offer a host of support services to help students succeed, including academic, mental health and financial support, but many first-generation students didn’t know about them.

The Coalition launched a small action team, and based on its early results, the program expanded as an Achieve Hartford program. The 2021-22 school year was the first time Achieve Hartford offered peer mentors to students from not just Hartford, but also from Bloomfield, East Hartford, Manchester, Vernon and Windsor who attended CCC or MCC. It helps drive the regional talent pipeline while serving mostly first-generation, low-income students.

For the second year, Achieve Hartford employed peer mentors this spring to continue to work with first-year students during their second semester of college.

“That represented both a mindset shift for us, and also substantial program growth,” says Chris Marcelli, director of programs. The College Persistence Program’s peer mentors work with first-year students to help them stay in college, regardless of the challenges they face.

“It seems like this year, the 2021-22 academic year, students are more accustomed to the radical changes that have come to their educational environment. That said, they’re also more tired of them, and that flagging motivation really exacerbates the challenges of online courses in particular,” Marcelli says. “I think this year we’ve seen fewer students who are lost and confused, but more who are struggling.” This academic year, CCC and MCC have offered a mix of online and in-person classes.

“We were lucky to get some funds from the H. A. Vance Foundation to extend the program into the spring this year, which we hadn’t originally planned. As with last year, we’ve seen a small dip in student engagement in spring compared to the fall, but we’re not worried by that. Frankly, there are some students who get what they need out of the program in the fall, and then by spring they just don’t need us anymore—which is actually great. But we’re still here.”

Peer mentors who are students at the same college continue to formally work with mentees until May 6, continuing to send reminders about class registration and other end-of-the semester tasks.

Coalition Launches Class of 2022 Support

Despite some delays, the ALL IN! Coalition for College and Career Readiness launched the Post-Secondary Planning Program for the Class of 2022 in early April to help 148 Hartford Public Schools seniors form and implement a plan for their lives after graduation.

Last year’s effort to support the seniors disengaged because of COVID-19 led to HPS staff identifying nearly 350 seniors for post-secondary support in the spring. With so many of those students hunkered down at home during the pandemic, the program quickly turned into a city-wide street outreach effort that lasted for months before students could be supported by workshops and planning. Ultimately, 93 seniors who otherwise would not have had a post-secondary plan were helped toward college, trade programs, the military or other career pathway programs that started in the summer, fall, or in some cases, winter.

This year’s goal, once again, is simple: ensure these seniors develop viable plans for a post-secondary career pathway and get all the way to placement. The task, however, is quite difficult, says Paul Diego Holzer, Achieve Hartford executive director and strategic leader of the program. It all starts with building trust in a short amount of time, he says, followed by in-depth planning discussions informed by exposure to real options. And, as we learned last year, support must continue all summer to ensure students land in a career pathway by September.

Thanks to the hard work of HPS guidance counselors and staff, there are far fewer students this year without a post-secondary plan, but still enough to warrant a second year of ALL IN! Coalition support.  Counselors from six high schools identified 148 students on track to graduate but without plans for college or a career with a future after high school.

ReadyCT staff manages the project, and staff from Blue Hills Civic Association, Center for Latino Progress and ReadyCT work with students to provide mentoring, planning and skill-building services through June. These began with weekly one-on-one or small-group meetings between seniors and agency staff members to build trust. Agency and college partners are introducing the seniors to post-secondary options through workshops and detailed plans to help seniors chart their post-secondary pathway.

Also, through June, students will be offered small-group workshops to build work-related skills. From July to September, caring adults will continue to connect weekly with recent graduates through phone calls, texts and/or in-person meetings; students will be placed in productive summer programs and given assistance to overcome barriers to their chosen career pathway so they can start by September.

The ALL IN! Coalition funders have stepped up to support the $159,000 budget, which includes incentives up to $250 for each participating senior.

Nationally, College Enrollment Continues Decline

SOURCE: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

Nationally, undergraduate enrollment fell by 3.1%, or 465,300 students last year, with public, four-year institutions losing the largest number of students (251,400 or -3.8%) compared to the previous year, reports the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Continued enrollment losses during the pandemic represent a total two-year decline of 5.1% or 938,000 students since fall 2019, the NSC Research Center reports.

Enrollment declines at community colleges were less severe in the fall of 2021 (-3.4% or 161,800 students) than in 2020. But over a two-year period, public two-year colleges remained the hardest hit sector since the start of the pandemic; enrollment plunged by 706,106 students, or -13.2% over 2019, the NSC reports.

Undergraduate enrollment declined across all institution sectors, with private, for-profit four-year colleges suffering the steepest percentage drop (-11.1% or 65,500 students). Private, nonprofit four-year undergraduate enrollment decreased by 2.2% or 58,700 students in the fall of 2021, the NSC reports. Public institutions (two-year and four-year combined), which enroll three out of every four undergraduates, showed a 3.1% decline, or nearly 398,600 fewer students.

Enrollment for first-year students slipped again, by 2.7% from fall 2020 to fall 2021 and 13.1% since 2019 at all institutions, except for private, nonprofit four-year institutions, the NSC reported.

Shrinking college enrollment has been linked to low unemployment levels, dissatisfaction with rising college costs, public skepticism and declining birthrates. Whatever the reason, the United States is “experiencing a higher education enrollment crisis,” San Jose Spotlight says.

In January, Jon Marcus, editor of The Hechinger Report, a national nonprofit newsroom which covers education, wrote a piece exploring what the decline in college enrollment means for the country, called, Another million adults ‘have stepped off the path to the middle class.’

“People without education past high school earn significantly less than classmates who go on to earn bachelor’s degrees and are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to be employed. They’re more prone to depression, live shorter lives, need more government assistance, pay less in taxes, divorce more frequently and vote and volunteer less often,” Marcus wrote.

The Lumina Foundation presented a webinar in early April: Our Nation’s Enrollment Plunge; Reversing the Trend, with representatives from higher ed, industry, the National Student Clearinghouse, the U.S. Department of education and journalists, including Marcus. The drop in post-secondary education has not only life-long implications for a generation, but for the industries in need of an educated workforce, participants said.

Historically, the longer students are away from college, the less likely they are to return as work and family commitments crowd out education. This phenomenon instills an urgency in the work of Achieve Hartford and the ALL IN! Coalition partners.

Seeking Partners’ Input into Plans for Future Service

Achieve Hartford is at the beginning of our strategic visioning and planning process, and we’re at a crossroads. In the coming weeks, we’ll be reaching out to ALL IN! Coalition partners for their input on our future role.

The ALL IN! Coalition action teams that have scaled into full-fledged programs across six communities in partnership with Capital and Manchester community colleges may expand even further, while the Coalition work focused on systems-change in Hartford is approaching five-years old.

In Hartford, with all the players, programs and institutions focusing on post-secondary enrollment and career pathways, it’s time for us to ask the question: What’s our role going forward? In April, we’ll be seeking to interview or survey you, and we would like very much to hear your voice.

  • We have served as the backbone organization to the ALL IN! Coalition’s steering committee, funder advisory committee, the post-secondary supports network and multiple action teams and projects. 
  • We have relished this role over the last four years – driving collaboration, coordination and communication between and among partners and sectors.
  • We seek to learn: 
    • Is there a need for us to play our current role going forward? 
    • Is there another area of systems-change focus for us to address? 
    • Should we expand our direct support to community college students to drive degree completion beyond Hartford County? 
    • Should we merge with another non-profit and seek leaner and more efficient operations?

We need to hear from you. Be on the lookout for a request from us, and know we truly appreciate your voice in helping us answer these tough questions. We hope to continue being a service to you, whether you’re a public-sector, philanthropic, corporate or nonprofit leader. Please help us determine how we can best serve the underserved going forward.

Community Colleges’ Staff Do More Than Teach

The national statistics about who attends community colleges tell part of the story: among students entering college in the fall of 202, 39% of community college students had experienced food insecurity in the past year; 48% of the over 195,000 college students surveyed experience housing  insecurity; and 14% were affected by homelessness, according to the 2021 #RealCollege Survey, by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. Overall, 13% had lost a loved one to COVID, with Latinx students more than twice as likely as White students to lose a loved one, the survey found. 

“The pandemic didn’t stop the need [because campus was closed down.] It exacerbated it in a lot of ways,” says T.J. Barber, campus associate dean of student development, Manchester Community College (MCC). The pandemic “highlighted just how critical it is for the College and other institutions to be aware of what is out there to help our students.”

Community colleges offer a host of services to address basic needs, including food pantries, emergency aid and laptop loans. The need just increased during the pandemic, Barber says. While the campus was shut down, Barber and another MCC staff member drove repeatedly to Rentschler Field in East Hartford to get boxes of groceries distributed by Foodshare to give to students, since students didn’t have cars and couldn’t bring the food home by bus without it spoiling during the three-hour trip. 

With classes converting to remote only in March of 2020, students needed laptops and hotspots since many couldn’t afford home internet service or computers. The MCC library loaned out about eight laptops for two-day loans prior to the pandemic, and, when campus closed, the MCC Foundation funded an additional 20 laptops for a semester-long loan, says Debbie Herman, director of library and educational technology, MCC. Through CARES Act funds, the college purchased 60 more laptops to lend out through the Library, as well as 18 hotspots, she says. 

“The library has always been a haven for students who need a quiet place to study or a printer or computer,” she says. “When we had to close down in March 2020, it was devastating not to be able to provide students with that space.”

Some students found themselves out of work when the pandemic hit, so they were able to get emergency funds to pay an abnormally high utility bill or for an unexpected car repair, food assistance, and, when campus reopened, help completing applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Barber says. According to the #RealCollege Survey, more than half of respondents reported having at least moderate anxiety, and staff like Barber and his team try to encourage students to take advantage of the mental health counseling and academic support services.  

This is why, Barber says, he never turns down a donation or an offer to volunteer: The “Career Clothing Closet” holds a lot more than business attire, since students’ basic needs must be met to be ready to learn. It also includes baby clothes, sweatpants, pots, pans, dishes and furniture.

HPS Seniors Share Their Stories

Three seniors in the Hartford Public Schools system from different countries of origin and family circumstances share at least three qualities – having grown up feeling loved, appreciation for their teachers and ambition for their futures. They’re students at Hope Academy, an alternative high school inside the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford for 11th and 12th graders who need support to stay on track for graduation and benefit from smaller classes taught by HPS teachers. These students agreed to share their stories to give a window into their lives to the adults who work to help students like them reach their potential.

When Patrick Munoz moved to Hartford with his mother, step-father and brothers as a first-grader from Puerto Rico, he didn’t speak English, but felt fluent by second grade. Now 19, he’s grateful to his mother for helping him transfer to the smaller, more personal high school when he was a sophomore. 

While a student at Hartford High, “I was slacking off a lot, not doing what I needed to do,” says Munoz. He likes the quieter classrooms and a schedule that allows him to work weeknight shifts at a store near Westfarms. He gives his mom, who works as a store manager for Michaels crafts, money for gas to drive him to work and for Internet service, he says. His mother and step-father divorced when he was in eighth grade, but he’s still in touch with his step-father. 

Munoz is thinking of going to technical school to learn how to fix electronics, but he’s not so sure about college. “My mom, she tries to influence me to go to college. I’m edgy about it,” he says. In addition to her retail job, his mother has a cake making business and makes jewelry, and tells him she wishes she had gone to college. 


Samira Pena wants to become a veterinarian, and plans to start at Capital Community College after graduating this spring, transfer after two years to Central Connecticut State University, followed by “whatever veterinarian college accepts me,” she says. “Animals have always been my passion” and math and science are her favorite subjects, she says. 

She has lived in Hartford, East Hartford and Florida. Pena, 19, remembers as a child, while living with her mother, going hungry at the end of the month when the food stamps ran out. Her mother is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 10 years, she says, and relies on public assistance. Pena describes her father as a functioning alcoholic who is able to work. She lived with him in Florida from aged 14 to 16, she says, then moved back to Hartford to live with her grandmother. 

Regardless of her parents’ struggles, she says, “I did feel loved no matter what.” Her parents didn’t try to poison her against each other, and her grandmother cared for her when she lived with her. 

Pena works for a cleaning company up to 20 hours a week and says she appreciates the attentive environment at Hope Academy. “I really turned it around when I came here. I love it,” she says. “They give you an opportunity to work at your own pace.” 


Jefar McPherson likes learning and his favorite subjects are science and English. He has several career interests and hasn’t decided yet which one to pursue – going into the Airforce to work on airplane engines or become a pilot, becoming a lawyer because he likes debating or a real estate agent like one of his relatives because “it’s one of the best ways or safest ways to accumulate wealth without having a college degree.”

His parents want him to go to college, he says. His mother cares for elderly people and his father works for the U.S. Postal Service, but neither went to college and they want more for him. His family moved to the area from Jamaica when he was 11. 

McPherson, 19, works at Family Dollar after school until closing, but hopes to soon get a job at Amazon because it pays $3.50 an hour more and is directly on a bus route, he says. Without a car, he says, he has the choice between “wasting money on an Uber or a 40-minute bus ride home” from Downtown Hartford.

As the youngest child and only son, he says, “I probably got loved a little too much. My mom wanted a boy.” 

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