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HCC celebrates 60 years

Dr. George Frost, first President of what has becom Holyoke Community College. Reminder Publications submitted photo
By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

HOLYOKE The buildings are different. The classes and programs are certainly expanded. At age 60, though, the educational mission of Holyoke Community College (HCC), according to its current president, hasn't changed all that much.

The college marked its anniversary with a gala celebration on June 7.

HCC is truly a product of the city of Holyoke, although its students have come from around the Pioneer Valley, according to a book on the college's history written by faculty member George Ashley, III.

After the end of World War II, there was an increased demand for higher education as veterans were taking advantages of opportunities provided by the G.I. Bill. Holyoke was one of several cities in Western Massachusetts where a two-year college was founded. Unlike other communities, though, the Holyoke Graduate School was developed by the city's School Department and employed instructors from other area colleges for night classes.

Over 100,000 students have attended the school in the last 60 years, which currently has over 9,000 students annually from more than 70 cities and towns.

In 60 years, HCC has evolved from a part-time school operating nights at Holyoke High School to an institution that leads the state's community colleges in graduates transferring to four your colleges.

HCC President William Messner told Reminder Publications he sees that trend continuing.

In addition to the changes in facilities and program, Messner noted the college's student body has changed with the times. HCC is more diversified, he said. Applications from students of color have doubled in recent years and overall the number of applications has risen seven to eight percent.

The day where the lecture or lab dominated the way lessons were delivered is also passing, he explained. There are a growing number of Internet-based classes at the colleges.

"It's no longer talking head lectures that last an hour or two," Messner said.

Messner said the new Kittredge Center for Business and Workforce Development reflects another trend for the college. The Center is the home for both credit and non-credit programs that put a "heightened emphasis on workforce development," he said. The region's businesses looks at the college as part of the solution for providing people with the skills they need.

New ways to deliver educational services go beyond the Internet. Messner said that for the first time in the college's history there will be a satellite campus on Maple Street in Holyoke. The second campus has been two years in the making and should be serving students next semester.

Since the Commonwealth finances HCC, funding is always an issue, Messner said. He noted that in the South and Midwest, public colleges dominate the higher education horizon. Here in Massachusetts, much of the limelight is shined on some of the nation's finest private colleges.

"There is a dawning realization that Harvard and MIT are great institutions, but most people look to public schools," he said.

Although many in the Legislature and the Patrick Administration support additional funding of public higher education, Messner said there are so many pressing needs that he is not hopeful about more aid to schools such as HCC.

Messner said increases in tuition and fees can only go so far and that he is seeking ways for the college to become more efficient to save money and to look for other sources of revenue.

"It is the challenge for public higher education in the foreseeable future," he said.

Messner said the college's alumni are proud of HCC.

"I'm constantly impressed with the folks who tell me they cherished the years they spent here," he said.

He added that although the physical surroundings have changed, "in the mission they still recognize the institution as the one they attended."