The Chelsea City Council passed a unique pilot program by a vote of 8-2 on Monday night that would allow qualifying students at Chelsea High an opportunity to finish their Associate’s Degree after high school on the City’s dime.
The program is a partnership with Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) and was championed by City Manager Tom Ambrosino this year in his State of the City. It is seen by him and the School Department as a logical extension of the dual enrollment program at the high school that allows students there to take college level courses at BHCC.
The problem with the program in Chelsea, Ambrosino and others said, is that many students after graduation don’t have the financial resources to continue on and finish the Associate’s Degree they have been working towards.
The pilot program would use $150,000 in the first year, and would be open to students who have completed 12 credits while still in high school within the dual enrollment program. They also must remain Chelsea residents while receiving the benefit.
If a student applies for and gets a Pell Grant, BHCC will provide a subsidy as well and will waive tuition for the student as part of their end of the bargain.
“I had concerns at first, but I did some digging and it’s a good program,” said Councillor Leo Robinson. “I will be supporting this.”
“Many of the students in dual enrollment can’t complete their degree by the time they graduate high school, and they just don’t have the resources to complete it afterward,” said Council President Damali Vidot. “I think now is a great time to invest in our young people.”
But not everyone was on board, and some who voted for it had concerns as well.
Councillor Luis Tejada ended up voting for the matter, but said he was challenged by it.
“My challenge is with the money going to just Bunker Hill,” he said. “What I have a bigger problem with is you take care of your household first before you take care of your extended family. If you take care of everyone else before your household, you will tank…We have a $3 million deficit in our school system and Free Cash should be devoted to that first…If there is excess cash, maybe it should be devoted to the public schools.”
The chief detractor, however, was Councillor Bob Bishop, chair of the Finance Committee. Bishop said it’s a good program, but shouldn’t be funded by the taxpayers.
“To me, it’s a big problem because we’re using taxpayer money on something we’re not required to spend it on,” he said.
“This $150,000 is a pilot program and next year it could possibly be a lot more money,” he said. “I don’t understand how we can get involved in the business of paying for college for a select few…I suspect this is a misuse of taxpayer dollars. This is $150,000, but it will be $500,000.”
Councillor Giovanni Recupero agreed with Bishop, saying it should be funded by private money and not taxpayer dollars.
Councillor Roy Avellaneda said it was about investing in the future of students in the modern era.
“The school education system we have is outdated,” he said. “Everyone knows you need more than a 12th grade education in this economy. You need advanced courses beyond high school. As a City, we have to prepare them. It only makes sense to prepare them for today. Unlike 30 or 40 years ago, a college education is required for that.”
Councillors Judith Garcia was absent for the vote, but had vocally supported the matter in previous meetings.
- On a related note, the Council voted 10-0 without much discussion to approve a $50,000 program to help City Hall employees pay for courses to advance their education. That program was also proposed by Ambrosino and championed by the Council.