Feds: Bergen “Does it Right” in Supporting Students

Bergen Community College President Eric M. Friedman, Ph.D., U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Ed.D., First Lady Jill Biden, Ed.D., Bergen Managing Director of Learning Assistance Services Khairia Fazal and Dean of Student Support Services Jennifer Migliorino-Reyes, Ph.D.

PARAMUS, N.J. – First Lady Jill Biden, Ed.D., who said she “feels really at home here,” and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Ed.D., applauded Bergen Community College’s student support services during a visit to the institution’s main campus Jan. 20, saying Bergen represents a national model when it comes to developing innovative tactics that help students succeed. The pair traveled to the College to announce new resources provided by the Biden-Harris administration that will reduce barriers in higher education - particularly those complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic - and to see Bergen’s innovative programs in person.

“It takes a culture on campus to get this done,” Secretary Cardona said. “We know what’s happening at Bergen needs to happen across the country … so we’re coming together and we’re lifting up schools like Bergen who do it right. If any college across the country wants to know how to do it right, call President [Eric M.] Friedman!”

The federal officials chose to visit Bergen based on the strength of the recently reimagined one-stop student service center, comprehensive student support services and positive response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While visiting, the First Lady and Secretary Cardona met with President Friedman, who shared how the institution leverages federal funds to provide services that keep students enrolled and on a path toward a college degree. Among them, College leaders highlighted how the one-stop campus environment connects students with registration, academic and wraparound support services such as:

·      The Cerullo Learning Assistance Center, a nationally recognized tutoring center;

·      The Center for Health Wellness and Personal Counseling, an office staffed with counselors to support mental health and well-being; and

·      The Child Development Center, a nationally accredited early childhood learning facility.

Bergen has used federal pandemic assistance funds to launch new programs and initiatives in each of the resources - including tuition-free enrollment at the Child Development Center for 25 student-parents enrolled at the College.

“For the first time ever, I am enrolled full-time,” student-parent Kezia Bomtempo Rodriguez said at the event. “The Child Development Center has given my family a priceless opportunity to thrive and fulfill our full potential. Thank you for believing in dreams and working with families like mine to turns dreams into reality.”

Bomtempo Rodriguez, an aspiring nurse, took advantage of the tuition-free enrollments at the early learning facility for her twin three-year-old daughters.

Combined, the College used $153,000 in federal funding from two sources - the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan and the U.S. Department of Education’s Child Care Access Means Parents in School grant program - to sponsor the tuition-free enrollments.

Bergen also used a portion of funds received from the federal government for pandemic-related relief to satisfy the outstanding balances of current students with past-due tuition bills. In total, the College devoted approximately $5 million to the effort, which impacted more than 2,000 students.

Biden, an educator who has taught at Delaware Technical & Community College and continues to teach at Northern Virginia Community College, reflected on her New Jersey roots - she was born in Hammonton and lived in Mahwah - and promised that she, and husband, President Joe Biden, will lead efforts to see the country “build back better than ever before.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy; New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy; U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5); Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco III; Bergen County Board of Chosen Commissioners Chair Tracy Silna Zur; Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton; Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella; New Jersey Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-38); College officials, faculty, staff and students; and leaders from labor, workforce and education also attended the event. Gov. Murphy and Rep. Gottheimer provided formal remarks. The government leaders commemorated their visit by signing a ceremonial wall in the one-stop that the College will permanently preserve.

At the event, federal officials announced an additional $198 million in American Rescue Plan funds that will primarily support community colleges; new guidance on how colleges can use these new and existing federal funds to meet students’ basic needs such as housing and food security; and guidance on how colleges can use existing data to connect students to other federal benefits.

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 13,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

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