NECHE receives grant for program, facility expansion

Nueva Esperanza Center for Higher Education recently received a $2.1 million grant that will allow it to expand its facilities and programs. NECHE, which is Eastern’s satellite junior college, will also change its name to Esperanza College of Eastern University.

The grant, which is from the United States Department of Education, is part of a federal program under Title V, which is the legislation that deals specifically with Hispanic institutions.

“[The program] desires to encourage the development of Hispanic colleges and universities,” senior vice president Tom Ridington said.

NECHE was started as a partnership between Eastern and Nueva Esperanza, Inc. Nueva Esperanza, Inc, was founded by a group of Philadelphian Hispanic clergy in 1987 and is the “largest Hispanic faith-based community development corporation in the U.S.,” according to NECHE’s website.

According to Sara Miles, the founding dean, the idea behind NECHE was to integrate Spanish-speaking students into the larger English-speaking community. NECHE students start with a language transition program in Spanish, and, with intensive ESL, they take all of their coursework in English by their third semester. The first class entered in 2001.

“[Hispanics have] the highest attrition rate [out of all the ethnic groups],” said Miles. “There are cultural and linguistic issues.” By placing students in an environment where they can start with classes in Spanish and move to English, NECHE’s staff hopes to reduce the cultural tensions, and with that, the Hispanic attrition rate.

The Title V grant, also known as “Strengthening Hispanic Serving Institutions,” will allow NECHE to continue its work.

“It’s a highly selective program,” Ridington said. “You have to apply to apply [to receive the grant].” After the first round of applications, 500 schools were declared eligible. One hundred schools submitted applications for the second round. Only twenty schools-including NECHE-received the grant.

“It was David and Goliath, and we were David,” Ridington said. “We were by far the smallest institution ever to be funded.” Most of the schools that received the grant are community colleges that serve thousands of students, and most are located in the Pacific Southwest and Texas. NECHE has 80 students and 23 faculty.

According to Ridington, there are a few reasons that NECHE was given the grant.

“The model works better,” he said. “We have the lowest dropout rate among students.” According to Miles, NECHE graduates about 58 percent of its students, while the national percentage is 39. NECHE is also the only Hispanic-serving institution in Pennsylvania and is based on a partnership model, which is rare.

“We’ve also developed a track record of being good stewards of government grants,” Ridington added.

The grant will be used for two purposes. The first is facility expansion, with $400,000 allotted to build a library, student facilities, and offices.

“It will be clearly a space that has more of a feel of a college,” said Jack Weaver, NECHE’s vice president of education. In January, he will become the dean of education. He added that they hope to grow from 80 to 250 students.

The other part of the grant will go toward program development. Right now, students can concentrate in Business Administration, Communication Arts, or Early Childhood Education. According to Miles, they will add another concentration, most likely in Health Services or Community Health.

After receiving an associate’s degree at NECHE, most students go on to finish their Bachelor’s at Eastern, according to Ridington.

“That’s what makes us different,” he said. “We can track what happened to students.” Many NECHE students enroll in the Degree Completion Program instead of Eastern’s traditional undergraduate program.

“One of the major impacts will be on the children of the students,” Miles said. The children will learn the importance of getting an education from their parents. “Our country needs an educated Hispanic community,” she added. “Our church needs an educated Hispanic community.”

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