Greenfield Community College expanding presence in Hampshire County

  • Amherst Regional Middle School Building

  • The Greenfield Community College main campus building.

  • PURA

For the Gazette
Thursday, January 19, 2017

AMHERST — Hampshire County has no community college inside its borders, but Greenfield Community College has been working to change that.

The community college has been slowly building a presence in Amherst and is looking to expand in Northampton as part of a long-term strategy to expand opportunities for students who can’t get to the Greenfield campus.

“It’s clear that many people who live and work in those communities are not college-bound, and we want to work with folks in those communities to provide access to programs they need,” said GCC President Robert Pura.

This term, students looking at GCC’s online course selections will see evening classes in English Composition 1, Introduction to Statistics and Microcomputer Software Skills at Amherst Regional Middle School through GCC.

At the invitation of Amherst’s former town manager, school superintendent and former state Rep. Ellen Story, GCC has been “slowly, purposefully” responding to that community’s need for courses, and plans to continue building more of a presence there, Pura said.

Similarly, GCC has been having conversations with Northampton’s mayor, its chamber of commerce and others about how to fill a workforce development need rather than traditional transfer-oriented college programs, Pura said.

This spring semester, GCC is also offering evening classes at Smith College in environmental studies, psychology, American literature, English composition and nutrition, as well as a grant-funded special education course for early childhood and after-school educators.

“It became evident that Hampshire County is underserved,” Pura said.

A similar invitation from the community in Ware is being met by Holyoke Community College, he said.

In Northampton, Pura plans to meet with employers about what kind of workforce development courses they see a need for, just as the college has worked in Franklin County to help train employees in specific skills for which workplaces identify a need.

There, the college offers its Licensed Practical Nursing program in leased space in Florence, and plans to move it to a new training center now being built at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.

“We’re talking aggressively with them about building programs that serve that community in collaboration with Smith Voke, not unlike some of the work we’ve done here in Franklin County Tech School,” said Pura.

He also hopes to work with Westfield State College to help bring its Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to Smith Voke.

Patricia Crosby, Franklin-Hampshire Regional Employment Board executive director, said, “There’s a real need for a higher-ed presence in Hampshire County. Anything they can do on an outreach basis will be really appreciated by people. Most working people who are really struggling to get a job aren’t going through the Five Colleges.”

GCC already provides nursing education and home health aide training at the Northampton Career Center, Crosby said, and the training the community college can provide in critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, combined with literacy and math skills, provide the “foundational academic skills,” required by many employers as a starting point.

GCC has had the support of area legislators to move ahead with expanding its presence in Hampshire County, “shaped by conversations with that community,” said Pura.

“The fact that we were invited by those communities is significant to us,” said Pura, adding that by offering classes in Amherst and Northampton, “We’re opening the door to more students, who can’t get to the Greenfield campus because of (lack of) transportation or work or family issues.”

There are no projections yet for how many courses the college sees itself offering in either Amherst or Northampton, he said, nor are there estimates of how much growth it could translate into for the college.

For students who contemplate going on to earn an associate’s degree from GCC, Pura said, there’s no promise that they will be able to do so without ever traveling to the Greenfield campus, although he said it may be possible for them to do so if they try earning their associate’s degree over a long period.

Asked why a GCC course being offered in Amherst might be more appealing to a student there when the same course might be offered more regularly at the University of Massachusetts, Pura said a student might have conflicts during the day that make GCC’s evening class schedule more convenient, or their needs may fit better with GCC’s mission than with the mission of UMass.

“They may want to pursue a community college path,” he said.