Two-year college in Boston builds future for a community

The Roxbury Community College of today -- at home in an abandoned former college and dedicated to many students unwanted in other higher education classes -- is not yet the junior college its president, Brunetta R. Wolfman, envisions. In fact, the groundbreaking Aug. 27 for a custom-built new campus confirms both her determination and her expectations.

As she put it in an interview, the new construction (to be completed in 1987) will provide much more than new buildings and greenery. It will constitute nothing less than ``the revival of hope and achievement'' and ``a second chance'' for the 2,300 students who attend RCC's day and evening classes.

This week, at the future site of the $40 million campus at the southern edge of downtown Boston, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis said, ``This college, which has been much too long in the making, is going to be the key to opportunity for thousands and thousands of young and not-so-young people in this community and surrounding communities in the city of Boston.''

Dr. Wolfman's educational priorities for such an institution are succinct: ``The ideal urban junior college moves its typical student from adult illiteracy to literacy, to high school certificate, to preparation for study at a four-year college or employment in a number of vocations,'' she explains.

``We try to do this at RCC,'' she adds. ``We take them from where they are and move them forward.''

Further, says RCC's fourth president in 12 years, the school aims to encourage graduates to study more after graduation; to stabilize their career plans; and, in an effort to signal the college's readiness to serve the entire community, to attract more white students.

Despite the fact that black Bostonians founded RCC because they wanted ``a black college'' in their community, Dr. Wolfman insists that RCC is not ``a black school.''

Last year, half the enrollment was black, a third Hispanic, and nearly 20 percent white, she notes. (Nationally, 40 percent of the nation's 1.1 million blacks enrolled in colleges and universities attend two-year colleges similar to Roxbury Community College.)

Dr. Wolfman is very much opposed to any ``ghetto'' junior college becoming a ``separate but equal enclave'' for minority students.

As for guiding graduates toward further studies, available statistics on careers indicate that, little by little, her overall goals are on their way to being achieved.

In a survey of 178 graduates from 1981 and 1982, data showed that although most RCC graduates go directly into the workplace, nearly 40 percent had enrolled for further college work. Dr. Wolfman wants to see this percentage continue to rise.

Two foundations -- the Ford Foundation and the Jessie B. Cox Charitable Trust -- provide funds for a new program to help the college in this effort. They have awarded RCC a grant to operate a Transfer Opportunities Program (TOP) to encourage more RCC students to seek four-year degrees at other colleges by supporting RCC programs that prepare students for the demanding academic entrance requirements after junior college graduation.

Four Boston-area colleges cooperate by accepting RCC credits toward degrees. This program adds incentive to the junior college's efforts to upgrade the potential of high school dropouts, to help single parents, and to provide remedial help to students.

The college offers three diplomas: associate of arts degree for the college-oriented; associate of science for the career-oriented; and a business certificate for completing work in the school's newest division, the Boston Business School. The business studies program had, until last September, been a division of the Boston Public School system. Of the college's 2,300 students, 1,500 are enrolled in the adult literacy program and 225 in the business school.

A good job is the primary goal for most RCC students.

Felicia Dillahunt is in a work-study sequence in computers. ``After I get a job,'' she says, ``I'd like to study for a college degree.''

Ms. Dillahunt is 19, but RCC students often are older. Jorge Muoz was a 1984 graduate at age 32; Sherry Smith, who graduated in 1978, enrolled in RCC 10 years after finishing high school.

Marcie Ren'e, a 1980 graduate, as with Mr. Muoz and Mrs. Smith, had families of their own when they enrolled. And all three continued their education in four-year colleges. Mrs. Ren'e studied journalism at Emerson College in Boston and returned to RCC last year as staff assistant to Ralph E. Watson, dean of administration.

Mrs. Smith earned her BS degree from Simmons College and returned to RCC to become director of student activities. She is now a scholarship graduate student at Suffolk University and just two courses short of a master's degree in business administration.

Both Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Ren'e set strong examples for others. Mrs. Ren'e has recruited no fewer than two nieces and four neighborhood young people to enroll at RCC.

Her daughter is a high school junior and ``can't wait to become an RCC student,'' she says proudly.

``There's no way I would have survived at Simmons had it not been for RCC,'' says Mrs. Smith. ``This school taught me how to study, to budget, to survive, to discipline myself.''

Muoz is a native of Ecuador who credits RCC with preparing him for a better job. He is now working his way through the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

``Some of our students,'' says Dr. Wolfman, ``are returning from the `dropout land' of their high school days. Some come here to change careers.

``Others,'' she concludes, placing RCC in the perspective of the most profound impact of education, ``seek to make a better life.''

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