25 Nov

Housatonic Announces New Initiative To Address Student Equity

‘The Equity Project’ increases access to opportunity and economic mobility for under-resourced and under-represented students.

Housatonic Community College (HCC) is elevating its commitment to under-resourced and underserved students across our region with the creation of a new initiative: The Equity Project. Through financial investments and an array of support services, the initiative seeks to increase access to higher education, retention and academic achievement.

Seeking to address the barriers for low-income students to gain access and persist at HCC, the Equity Project will create a permanent source of support for underserved HCC students. In addition to financial investments, the effort focuses on aiding students’ ability to navigate campus resources, student networks, professional development and personal growth opportunities. HCC’s Center for Male Success and the Women’s Center will provide these students with resources to support their growth, wellness and success both within and outside of the classroom.

The initiative was inspired by compelling data. With 55% of HCC students calling Bridgeport home, and Bridgeport residents earning roughly $23,350 annually (source: US Census), the majority of Housatonic’s student population are low-income scholars. Not surprisingly, 72% of HCC students are enrolled part-time and can take as long as six years to graduate while juggling several jobs and often supporting multiple family members. Too many individuals who could benefit from an HCC educational experience do not pursue higher education; in Bridgeport alone, less than 50% of high school graduates continue on to postsecondary education.

“By providing support that targets low-income, underrepresented scholars striving to climb out of poverty, students can develop to their full promise. As obstacles that delay degree completion are overcome, students are able to increase post-college earnings and contribute to the economic growth of our entire region. I invite our community to participate in supporting this transformational program,” said Housatonic CEO, Dwayne Smith, PhD. who personally committed $10,000 to the initiative.

The invitation is resonating. The Ernest and Joan Trefz Foundation, a supporter of in-need students and a two-decade HCC donor, provided a special, champion gift in support of the program. Generous funding to help launch the effort was also provided by R.C. Bigelow and M&T Bank.

“Our Trefz Family Foundation is committed to helping local students get their chance for higher education. Many students struggle to pay for education in addition to supporting themselves and their families. Now, to make matters more difficult, along comes Covid 19! The proposed Equity Project will certainly be a determining factor to help students be able to continue their studies. We hope others will join in helping the Equity Project succeed,” said Joan Trefz.

“Bigelow Tea is proud to support the Equity Project at Housatonic Community College. Ensuring higher education is accessible to everyone within our community is of paramount importance to the success of our state and country as a whole. We are thrilled to be able to partner with Housatonic to ensure that our next generation is able to achieve their goals through advanced learning opportunities created by this project,” said Cindy Bigelow, President and CEO of Bigelow Tea.

To learn more about the Equity Project visit Housatonic.edu/equity and to learn how to contribute, contact HCC Foundation Executive Director Kristy Jelenik at or call 203-332-5078.

Additionally, in connection with the launch of the Equity Project initiative, HCC is hosting a series of Black Lives Matter virtual programs. The first was held on November 16th, focusing on protective and risk factors. The next event, entitled ‘Trigger Happy’, will be held on Monday, November 30th at 6 PM to discuss gun violence. The final event in the series, ‘UJIMA’, will be held on Monday, December 14th at 6 PM to discuss our collective work and responsibilities. All are Facebook Live events and can be found by visiting https://www.facebook.com/HCCBridgeport/.


Caption For Photo Above: Housatonic Community College CEO, Dwayne Smith, PhD. is personally investing $10,000 to support HCC’s Equity Project initiative. Left to right, front row: HCC student Alexxa Lynn, Dr. Dwayne Smith, and Jaylen Daniels, HCC Student Senate Co-President; back row: HCC student Brittany Jerome and Kellie Taylor, a member of HCC’s Student Senate.