By Kori Tuitt
LOWELL -- When Jessica Pimentel was applying to colleges, her first choice was UMass Lowell.
Because of a growing waiting list for the university, she was placed in the Reserved Placement Program through a partnership with UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College. While Pimentel will be attending Middlesex Community College this coming semester, she will still have the opportunity to have that college campus experience before transferring to UML after a semester, thanks to the newest pilot program between the two institutions.
"It's good because I still have the chance to get into the school that I want to and I can also save some money by going into a community college for a semester," said Pimentel, 18, of Lawrence. "And I can meet some people, too."
Academic housing will be available to about 25 MCC students in the Honors to Honors Program at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center, on Warren Street. UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney said the waiting list at the university ranges between 800 to 900 students each year, and the Reserved Placement Program guarantees acceptance to a number of students wait-listed for the following semester or academic year.
"I think it's very well documented in higher education that students who live on a campus seem to fair better in terms of retention than students who don't," Moloney said. "Most of our freshmen, I'd say 95 percent of freshmen, also live in Living-Learning Communities."
These Living-Learning Communities allow for learning to continue outside of the classroom, Moloney said. Students with similar academic interests are housed together and have more interaction with other students and faculty. Moloney said these MCC students will also be part of this. For example, students interested entrepreneurship can invite relevant guest speakers and alumni or participate in a book club.
"You organize this residential learning experience around a topic that kind of broadens your educational experience," she said.
MCC President James Mabry said the partnership allows for valuable transfer pathways to better help students achieve their educational goals by connecting two strong honors programs in the state.
"For Middlesex Community College, it helps us expand our market by giving us another option to offer students, but also there are many students who are in the Reserved Placement Program and want to go directly to UMass Lowell," Mabry said. "Both institutions are dedicated to improving this transfer pathway so that we make it easier for more students to transfer with more credits."
Brianna Langlois, 19, of Westford, will also be taking advantage of the program. She said she applied to a half-dozen colleges, and this was "definitely the best bang for your buck."
"UMass Lowell is an amazing school, it was the best education for the best price," said Langlois, who is interested in studying journalism and English. "I'm just excited to have the opportunity to live on campus and be part of the UMass Lowell community while taking my classes in a smaller environment."
Langlois said transitions to new schools have always been difficult, so she looks forward to the support this program will offer.
Pimentel is looking to pursue peace and conflict studies, something she is excited UML offers. And without the housing opportunity she said she likely would have attended a community college closer to her home in Lawrence before transferring. Mabry said the choice to have housing available at the Inn and Conference Center makes walking to classes convenient for MCC students.
"It also works because the students have access to use other facilities and engage in other activities at UMass Lowell and UMass Lowell provides a shuttle bus from the Inn and Conference Center to their main campuses," he said.
Moloney said these students will take most of their courses at MCC, but will work with UML advisers. Depending on where they are in their program, they could also take courses at UMass Lowell. She said the goal is to make a comprehensive program for transfer students.
This also presents a win for the city's economy, said MCC Board of Trustees Chairman James Campbell. He said it illustrates that Lowell is becoming an educational community.
"This really reinforces the position that a student in the city of Lowell can receive an affordable, effective education going from kindergarten to an advanced degree," Campbell said. "That's clearly an economic benefit for the city and the greater Lowell area."
When he was appointed to the MCC Board of Trustees three years ago, Campbell said he never imagined the college would have this type of impact on the city. And the goal is to expand and continue this program.
"These 20 in the pilot program will be actually living in a four-year college environment with other students who are in a four-year program," Campbell said. "So, it has all kinds of possibilities because it is a first and to me it's a wonderful, exciting idea that will tremendously benefit this community."