HOLYOKE — Like so many of her Holyoke Community College (HCC) classmates, Katelynn Richards struggled for many years as she tried to balance the demands of parenthood and a college education. As a stay-at-home mom of three special-needs children, she had long deferred her dream of becoming a nurse. Affordability was a principal factor.
Now a second-year student in HCC’s associate of science in nursing program, Richard is one of the beneficiaries of an $18 million, state-funded scholarship initiative that will pay 100% of the costs of her nursing education — and the education costs for all community-college nursing students in Massachusetts.
“The effects of receiving the scholarship funding impact my entire life,” Richard said. “It will allow me to have a healthier work and school family balance. It will cover all my expenses so I can focus on my education and pursue my dream degree in nursing.”
Richard was present on Oct. 17 when local legislators and representatives from the Healey-Driscoll administration visited HCC’s Center for Health Education & Simulation to announce the funding initiative.
“The new scholarship program was designed to attract, incentivize, and encourage a pipeline of skilled nurses,” Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler said, “and I’m truly so thrilled to be able to announce … that every single one of our currently enrolled community-college nursing students will be able to attend this year for free.”
There are about 3,000 students enrolled in community-college nursing programs in Massachusetts, Tutwiler said.
State Sen. Jo Comerford called the $18 million funding allocation a “historic investment,” noting a report from the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Assoc. that shows Western Mass. has the second highest number of people currently housed in hospitals awaiting nursing-home beds.
“That’s second only to the Metro Boston area,” she said. “And that’s all connected to a workforce shortage. As the labor market blueprint for the Connecticut River Valley shows, a supply gap of well over 1,000 nurses are needed to meet demand.”
Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Lauren Jones, Commissioner of Public Health Robbie Goldstein, state Sen. Adam Gomez, state Rep. Pat Duffy, and Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia were also present at Tuesday’s event, which was scheduled as part of statewide STEM Week activities.
HCC staff members led a tour of the state-of-the-art health-education facility, which is home to the college’s nursing and radiologic technology programs. Opened in 2015, the 11,000-square-foot facility includes flexible classrooms, student study areas, a radiology suite, a large radiology image library and image-critique room, four private patient-simulation rooms, two semi-private patient-simulation rooms, three control rooms, two debriefing rooms, prop storage, prep spaces, and two larger, multi-bed lab spaces that can be transformed into acute-care or community environments.
“Here, our nursing students learn the skills that prepare them to become capable, compassionate healthcare leaders,” HCC President George Timmons said, adding that, combined with MassReconnect, another new state program that provides free community college to students 25 and older, “there has never been a better time to earn your college degree.”