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Retention Rates Climb; Graduation Rates Drag

By Thomas Kozma, Staff Writer

Interim President Mark McCormick, addressed retention and graduation rates at The Middlesex County College Foundation’s Board of Trustees meeting in the Brunswick Room in Crabiel Hall on Thursday, Feb. 14.

McCormick said that The College has made progress on supporting student life and the county economy, but still lags behind surrounding county colleges in its graduation rate.

“We’ve had a lot of things going on since July when I took over as interim president,” he said. These include efforts to reduce food insecurity, improve The College’s dental hygiene program, and build partnerships with local high schools.

“One of the things we’ve been doing at the college is examining ways to make things more accessible for our students,” McCormick said.

McCormick also analyzed several years’ worth of data from Institutional Research about MCC and similar New Jersey county colleges. On one hand, the fall-to-fall retention rate for full-time students rose from 64 percent to 70 percent. Relative to four surrounding county colleges, he said MCC has gone from middle of the pack to near the top of the pack.

However, the 18 percent graduation rate in 2017 was only four points higher than in 2013.

“These aren’t the numbers we’re most proud of. We’re headed in the right direction, but not where we want to be. And more importantly, we moved from middle of the pack to the bottom of the pack. So, we’ve got more work to do in getting them across the finish line,” he said.

McCormick said the Federal Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPED) requires post-secondary schools to base graduation rates on first-time, full-time cohorts who graduate within three years. He said this data doesn’t always accurately describe community college students, who often take classes part-time and on their own schedule.”

He discussed a partnership with the New Brunswick High School, within a national program called Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), which allows disadvantaged students to complete both a high school diploma and associate degree in five years.

McCormick reported on an economic impact study conducted by the data analysis firm Emsi, which said that each dollar invested into The College pays back 20 times over. Middlesex County College boosted the county economy by $565.5 million in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, supporting 6,770 jobs.

Also discussed at the meeting were matters related to scholarships and finances

Executive director Veronica Clinton said that funding issues were raising concern.

“We have some cause for concern. I had a conversation with Johnson and Johnson last week. Funders, as you know, periodically change their priorities. And Johnson and Johnson, our friendly neighbor down the road here, they’re making some changes. Personally, I’m nervous that these are not going to work in our favor.

“We rely on their scholarship support for nursing, dental hygiene, and radiography students. That is at real risk — not of being dismantled, but being cut, because it increases restrictions.”

She said The Foundation should develop a strategic plan that relies less on scholarships and more on programs. Clinton also acknowledged the recent death of LGBTQ+ and Democratic activist Barbra Siperstein, who had asked for any gifts in her memory to be sent to the Barbra Siperstein Endowed Scholarship at MCC for transgender students.

“She has been an extraordinarily generous donor and has endowed three different scholarships here,” said Clinton.

According to the financial operating statement, the Foundation has distributed 120 scholarships totaling $667,000 were awarded to 328 students in academic year 2017- 2018. In addition, the Foundation
provided $385,000 to MCC special programs.

The Trustees reviewed the Foundation’s recent finances. Finance committee chairman James Sausmer said that the Foundation had lost over a million dollars in income from July to December.

“Everything here is tied into the stock market. Obviously, the stock market took a little dip in December and into January. So, our total assets dropped down to $17.6 million. This seems to indicate that we lost $1.3 million for the six months that ended Dec. 31. The good news is that in February the stock market has come back a little, and we’ve recouped like a million dollars of this. So , we’re all at the mercy of the stock market.”

Sausmer continued, “In terms of our investments, just about all our money is with Morgan Stanley. …In the second quarter, which is Oct. 1, 2018 to Dec. 31, 2019, the Foundation’s investment portfolio was down about 7.86 percent with an ending market value of $17 million. We’ve since recovered some of it, and as of yesterday we’re at 18.1 million. So things are getting back to normal.”

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