Sixty-seven percent of the students from six Alliance Districts in Greater Hartford persisted from fall 2021 to spring 2022 in their first year of Capital or Manchester Community College. This figure is not ideal, but still encouraging given the nationwide pandemic-related persistence declines: In fall of 2020, the national community college persistence rate into spring 2021 averaged 58.5%, which represented a 3.5% percentage point drop from the previous year, reports the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Last year, 71% of the Hartford Public Schools graduates who attended CCC or MCC persisted from their first semester in the fall of 2020 to a second semester in the spring of 2021, while this year’s cohort had a 67% persistence rate. (This year was the first time Achieve Hartford offered the College Persistence Program to students from five Hartford-area towns, so there’s no prior-year data.)

The College Persistence Program pairs peer mentors who are upperclassmen from the same college with first-year students to help them acclimate to college. It grew out of a need identified by the ALL IN! Coalition four years ago: CCC and MCC offer a host of support services to help students succeed, including academic, mental health and financial support, but many first-generation students didn’t know about them.

The Coalition launched a small action team, and based on its early results, the program expanded as an Achieve Hartford program. The 2021-22 school year was the first time Achieve Hartford offered peer mentors to students from not just Hartford, but also from Bloomfield, East Hartford, Manchester, Vernon and Windsor who attended CCC or MCC. It helps drive the regional talent pipeline while serving mostly first-generation, low-income students.

For the second year, Achieve Hartford employed peer mentors this spring to continue to work with first-year students during their second semester of college.

“That represented both a mindset shift for us, and also substantial program growth,” says Chris Marcelli, director of programs. The College Persistence Program’s peer mentors work with first-year students to help them stay in college, regardless of the challenges they face.

“It seems like this year, the 2021-22 academic year, students are more accustomed to the radical changes that have come to their educational environment. That said, they’re also more tired of them, and that flagging motivation really exacerbates the challenges of online courses in particular,” Marcelli says. “I think this year we’ve seen fewer students who are lost and confused, but more who are struggling.” This academic year, CCC and MCC have offered a mix of online and in-person classes.

“We were lucky to get some funds from the H. A. Vance Foundation to extend the program into the spring this year, which we hadn’t originally planned. As with last year, we’ve seen a small dip in student engagement in spring compared to the fall, but we’re not worried by that. Frankly, there are some students who get what they need out of the program in the fall, and then by spring they just don’t need us anymore—which is actually great. But we’re still here.”

Peer mentors who are students at the same college continue to formally work with mentees until May 6, continuing to send reminders about class registration and other end-of-the semester tasks.