Just as their students compete for scholarships, Northern Essex Community College competed with other Massachusetts community colleges for a new state grant.
NECC President Dr. Lane Glenn has announced the college received a $135,053 grant from the state's new $2.5 million Performance Incentive Fund for student retention programs.
Unlike most other higher education grant programs, which provide money based on the number of enrolled students, this grant was awarded to schools based on the effectiveness of their programs.
"Up until now, funding has been based upon enrollment," Glenn said. "I see this as an experiment."
To qualify for funding, public colleges and universities submitted proposals for increasing graduation rates on their campuses. The state accepted proposals for the grant money from mid-July to Aug. 1.
"We had a number of projects in the works that would be a good model for the money," Glenn said.
A competitive grant program is part of a push by Gov. Deval Patrick and the state Department of Higher Education to increase college graduation rates statewide. They call it the Vision Project.
Two proposals by the college qualified for grant money.
NECC officials said they plan to invest some of the money in the school's Student Success Center, located at the 45 Franklin St. campus in Lawrence. The center helps students with college academics and life by connecting them to NECC departments, including tutoring, career development and personal counseling. The office also hosts workshops for students.
"It's a hub of information," said Dawna Perez, associate dean of access and community building. "We're working collaboratively with other departments."
The center is staffed by Perez and an administrative assistant. There are plans to hire another full-time employee soon. Established last spring and open to students this fall, Perez said, the program will target 90 to 100 students. NECC's other successful proposal for grant money called for establishing an "early alert" system that would help the college's staff track first-year students at risk of failing or dropping out.
"They disappear, and we don't even know why," Glenn said. "Our funding is really a safety net for these students."
Glenn noted NECC has focused on developing its presence in Lawrence in the past several years due to a massive influx of students. The college opened its new Riverwalk campus at 360 Merrimack St. and plans to expand further with a building on Common Street with a new health and technology center. The college's main campus is in Haverhill. NECC expanded to Lawrence in 1991.
The college has close to 16,000 students and grew by 3,000 students this year.
"We're rapidly expanding," Glenn said.