Salem State, NSCC create 'seamless' partnership

DUSTIN LUCA/Staff photoLocal higher education leaders signed an agreement Friday bridging a partnership between Salem State Univeristy and North Shore Community College. Pictured from left: Salem State President John Keenan, Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, and North Shore Community College President Patricia Gentile.

Salem State University and North Shore Community College signed agreements Friday morning for a Seamless Pathways Partnership that will bring students at both schools even closer together than before.

The partnership will ease course credit transfers for NSCC students moving on to Salem State, allow NSCC students deferred admissions to Salem State and even allow North Shore Community College students to live in Salem State dorms and take advantage of on-campus programs and other aspects of student life. It’s planned to take effect for the 2019-20 academic year.

“We want this pathway to be as seamless as possible, and to do that we’ve created all these avenues for our students,” said Salem State University President John Keenan at a signing event on NSCC’s Lynn campus Friday morning.

“Our partnership is much deeper than this memorandum of agreement. Indeed, I believe we share the same DNA, and that is our core mission,” he said.

Carlos Santiago, the state’s commissioner of Higher Education, and a party to the agreement, said the partnership comes at an interesting time for public higher education systems throughout the country.

Historically, college enrollment has risen and fallen in response to demographics and other influences — rising rapidly thanks to the G.I. Bill in 1943 and lasting through the last of the Baby Boomers’ college years in 1979. Enrollments dropped then, but turned around in the 1990s.

“We’re now in another phase,” Santiago said. “This phase started around 2010 to 2013, where enrollments started to flatten out.” The decline is expected to continue steadily until 2025, when they are forecast to plummet dramatically.

A lot of that has to do with the cost of going to college, according to Keenan.

“Gone are the days where the student can work a summer job and pay for college, as many of our alumni have,” Keenan said. “Now we have students working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Some students I met just last week are working 50 to 60 hours a week to make college affordable.”

But students aren’t the only ones struggling to survive. The institutions, Santiago argued, must partner and share resources instead of competing for student admissions.

Making it affordable

The idea driving the partnership is to make higher education more accessible and affordable. That involves encouraging students to start at a two-year community college, where tuition is less expensive, and then transfer to a four-year college to complete their bachelor’s degree.

“More students from North Shore Community College transfer to Salem State University than any other higher education institution, not only in the region but also across the state,” said Patricia Gentile, president at NSCC. “For those folks especially, we want to make sure we have seamless education programs and pathways, so when they go to Salem State University with their credentials from here, they start as juniors in their progress toward a very affordable baccalaureate degree.”

The cost to obtain a bachelor’s degree at Salem State is a total of $44,000 for the four years. But if a student completed the first two years at NSCC, the cost for a four-year degree would drop to $35,000. Those figures are for in-state, commuter students and do not include room and board.

But the partnership involves more than cutting costs and making transfers easier. It will also give students at the two-year school access to a four-year campus experience.

“In 2016, we did a survey of our students using a USDA tool to look at hunger and homelessness, and truly were blown away by the number of students who didn’t have, at North Shore Community College, permanent housing,” Gentile said.

So the idea was born to offer dorm housing to NSCC students.

“Our dorms are at around 93 percent capacity right now,” Keenan said. “We have the space, and it’s a good opportunity for us to use the rooms we have, but most importantly to give the sense that North Shore Community College students feel like they’re at home when they’re on our campus.”

One question remaining on the dorm proposal is how students will pay for it. After all, living on campus costs money — an extra $12,000 a year at Salem State — and many students commute to avoid that cost.

A lot of that will fall on financial aid, according to Gentile. As it stands, more than 50 percent of North Shore Community College students are eligible for federal Pell grants.

Pell won’t cover the whole cost and many students still aren’t eligible for those federal grants, so looking for eligible programs is helpful, she said. “I think it helps our students retain better to be doing that. Even if you’re taking a student loan for that, you’re more likely to complete (a degree) than when couch surfing on a friend’s couch.”