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NCCC Expansion Supports Big Dreams

December 16, 2020

A $20,000 grant from Women in Northfield Giving Support (WINGS), coupled with a matching grant from a national funder, has given Northfield community college students a new place to pursue their educational dreams.

The Northfield Community College Collaborative (NCCC) moved at the end of the summer into vacated space on the second floor of the Northfield Community Resource Center. The spacious classroom and study areas, previously used by Adult Basic Education and for meetings, were outfitted with new tables and chairs, projectors, white boards, and other furniture to meet the needs of a growing population of students.

“The funding allowed us to create college classrooms and study spaces that have an actual college feeling,” said NCCC Director Katie Theis.

The move was supported by a $20,000 Dare to Dream Grant from WINGS, which is celebrating 20 years of giving in 2020. StriveTogether, a national leader in collective impact, provided a $1.50 match for every $1 in WINGS funding.

“We saw the success the NCCC had been having, and we wanted to help that success continue,” said Sarah Swan McDonald, chair of the WINGS grant committee. “We know the value of education and the ripple effect; the NCCC is not just benefiting the immediate students, but also their parents and their siblings. A lot of younger siblings are now coming to the program.”

The NCCC offers classes year-round to anyone with a high school diploma or a GED. Students can earn a two-year associate’s degree or complete generals without leaving Northfield. In-person classes are offered in the evenings through Riverland Community College, which has supplied the NCCC with all of its technology, including computers, projectors, a printer/scanner, two professor workstations, and two document cameras.

The NCCC has grown each year since it started in 2018. Last year, it served 34 students in the fall and 37 in the spring. This fall, 62 students are taking classes through the NCCC. The majority (46 students) are enrolled in Riverland Community College courses that the NCCC hosts, and an additional 16 NCCC students are taking classes at seven other colleges. In total, the NCCC is supporting students taking 97 different courses this semester.

“I think that’s a combination of the natural growth of the program and getting the word out, and COVID,” Theis said. “Students are either not comfortable moving to campus, or they’re not wanting to pay a lot of money to a residential college for online classes.”

Because of COVID-19, no classes were offered in person this fall, but the NCCC is offering in-person tutoring, career-planning assistance, and other student support. Students taking classes through any postsecondary institution have access to study space, wifi and printing services, and can receive help with resumes, internship research, and financial aid questions and applications.

Theis said she was grateful for the former location, above First National Bank—now Merchants Bank—in downtown Northfield. But the program had outgrown the space, and the NCRC location is better able to accommodate the increase in students and class offerings—even more so with COVID social distancing restrictions in place this fall.

Kay Smith, a retired St. Olaf College professor who regularly tutors NCCC students in math, said the larger classroom spaces and improved technology make for a richer learning experience.

“The old place had its charms, but I think students will appreciate having a place that’s identified as a college space,” Smith said.

Smith is also a WINGS member, and she said the fact that a majority of the NCCC students are young women was one factor in its selection for the grant.

“It aligned with the mission of WINGS to support those parts of the community—youth and women,” she said.

Last year, 72 percent of NCCC students were women, 77 percent came from low-income households, 82 percent were students of color, and 100 percent were first-generation college students.

Lorena Rodriguez, who started her second year as a NCCC student this fall, said of the new space: “It’s cool. There’s more space to study, and it’s more comfortable.”

Rodriguez attends in-person tutoring sessions at the NCCC, and she’s taking three online classes: US History, through Riverland Community College, and calculus and chemistry through Century College.

She plans to eventually transfer to Minnesota State University in Mankato to complete a four-year degree, and then apply to medical school at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She encouraged other local students to consider NCCC as an education option.

“There’s a lot of help. It’s more affordable for people, and it’s a great place to start,” Rodriguez said.

For more information about the NCCC, visit

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