Though academics can be a challenge for nearly every college student, very often the biggest obstacles to a successful college career can be non-academic barriers, such as having a place to live or enough to eat.
It is why Roxbury Community College (RCC) recently founded Project Access, a program to support those students who face a myriad of financial and social challenges. A small school with only about 2,000 students, 81 percent of whom are Black or Latinx, RCC hopes to make a big difference in their students’ ability to achieve the dream of a college degree.
The goal of Project Access is to provide an infrastructure to help students build on life skills, nutritional awareness, and social and health wellness. Starting at orientation, students learn about the services RCC provides free of charge. Knowing that not all students can attend orientation and that life can change on a whim, staff, including faculty, are trained to identify and approach those students who may need support to stay in school.
“Sometimes students will compose a self-reflection paper that raises a red flag,” said Lisa Carter, director of Project Access at RCC. “Some will arrive late to class because they can’t find childcare. The faculty member will then connect the student with me, so I can help them obtain the help they need. I’ve also instituted Can We Talk Wednesdays—I set up a table in the Student Commons (where RCC students study and meet), so they are informed of the services Project Access offers.”
Project Access staff can help students navigate the often-fraught systems for accessing health insurance, food through federal and local nutrition programs, legal referrals services to address a wide range of legal issues, mental health and domestic violence resources, furniture, clothing assistance programs and more—all at no charge.
In addition, if a student is facing eviction, staff will advocate on behalf of that student. This is especially important given the housing crisis in Boston where the median rent of a one-bedroom in Roxbury is nearly, $1,800 a month and in nearby Mission Hill can run as high as $2,100.
Over the last two years, Project Access has provided guidance and support services to approximately 700 students at Roxbury Community College. The support offered through Project Access is one component of RCC’s holistic student support model—which includes using TigerPaw, a Pharos database, to help advisors and faculty identify students who may be in academic jeopardy at an early stage. It allows for early intervention, access to student support groups—such as the Brotherhood and Sister-2-Sister—and the expansion of support services offered through the Student Accessibility Services Office. The staff at RCC hopes that the proactive approach will in time, contribute to improved retention and completion rates.