Roxbury College goal: to serve as a catalyst for inner-city progress

At a time when belts are being tightened and bootstraps are wearing thin in Massachusetts, administrators of Roxbury Community College here are not just talking about expanding their new 12-acre campus, they have opened a center in the city's Back Bay area. The new site, on St. Botolph Street, houses 11 programs that focus on community and workplace education. The programs, which range from adult literacy to business training, are geared toward providing options for inner-city people.

``What is most critical to understand is that we believe we have a unique mission in public education: to serve a constituency that is often denied access to higher education because of social and economic barriers,'' says Roxbury dean Henry Allen.

Roxbury Community College has fought its battle to educate a beleaguered community amid its own struggles for administrative calm and financial security.

``It's very difficult to get funding for these types of programs in normal times,'' Dean Allen says. ``When facing budget cutbacks in education at the state and federal level, it's even more of a challenge.''

Those affiliated with the college agree that with a $7 million budget and more than 2,500 students, it takes more than determination to succeed.

Jose deJesus, assistant to the college president, says staff members have been meeting this challenge by giving students more of their time. ``There's a sense of outreach to students, a sense of family, of faculty and staff giving of themselves and their time in tutorials.''

College president William Thompson agrees. ``It is absolutely critical that community colleges focus not only on credit courses that lead to degrees,'' he says, ``but on the needs of the community and the economy.''

Roxbury's efforts to prepare students for the changing economy include programs in nursing, theater arts, and banking. The St. Botolph Street Center has programs that work with both the employed and unemployed to bolster their literacy skills and knowledge of occupational safety standards and precautions, prepare them for the general-equivalency diploma, develop financing strategies for funding small businesses, and keep them abreast of technological advancements.

Among the college's goals is becoming a center of community activity. The fact that more than 70 community organizations and agencies have used the new campus for events and meetings since September suggests that Roxbury Community College is succeeding in that endeavor.

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