Breaking Barriers and Building Futures: Massachusetts Paves the Way for Adult Learners’ College Dreams

MassReconnect logo

Bristol Community College continues to see an increase in enrollment since implementing MassReconnect. This past fall, Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey’s 2024 budget supported a new student financial assistance program that puts college within reach for individuals aged 25 and older. MassReconnect is a groundbreaking initiative that creates opportunities for those who may never have imagined higher education was in their future or for someone who needed to revitalize a dream put on hold.

“Bristol students come from diverse backgrounds, each with unique aspirations and varying levels of educational attainment. Regardless of their starting point, Bristol has the support services and resources to assist and guide students. Now, the MassReconnect program helps to alleviate the financial burden, so they can graduate without debt,” said Laura L. Douglas, Ph.D., President, Bristol Community College.

MassReconnect TV shoot

Bristol’s latest television commercial showcases adult learners and highlights the motivations behind their commitment to “Making it Happen” with Bristol.

As soon as MassReconnect was announced the college was able to begin enrolling students. The admissions application had recently been revised and streamlined so that it now only takes an average of five minutes to complete. On the back end, admissions staff can review applications and admit students in about 48 hours due to the automation that was made possible through the introduction of new technology.

“We recognize that coming to college as an adult is a much different experience compared to entering directly out of high school. The college has put into place tailored communications and support services that provide students with a more personalized experience. We can reach out with automated reminders to keep our students on track, share information about college resources and stay in touch with counselors,” explained Kate O’Hara, Vice President of Student Services and Enrollment Management. “This enhanced support throughout the admissions process facilitates a smoother transition into the college.”


Adult learners are often surprised to see students of similar age when attending classes at Bristol Community College. Balancing life’s responsibilities in addition to catching up on technology are a few challenges that adult learners returning to college regularly face. The college has library resources, tutoring and academic support, disability support services and technical support available to all students. For members of multicultural communities, the college offers resources, peer support and direction. The college’s Joseph A. Marshall Veterans Center has been recognized nationally and is one example of the comprehensive services offered to our students.


The 2022 U.S. Census reported that 15% of people aged 25 and older in Bristol County have some college or no degree, while only 32% have a high school diploma or equivalent. Thirty-seven percent of Bristol’s MassReconnect students have previously attended college but have not obtained a degree. In Fall 2023 the college saw an increase of 565 students who received MassReconnect funding totaling $954,503 in financial aid. This surge correlated with a 200% rise in adult learner applications for Fall 2023, after the MassReconnect launch. Many of these students enrolled and secured additional federal and state aid, citing MassReconnect as a key factor in their decision to go to college. Overall admissions applications rose by 14.9%, comprising a 10.9% increase from new students, a 26.2% surge from returning students, and an impressive 40% spike in high school applications from the 2023 graduating class. The overall enrollment from Fall 2022 to Fall 2023 increased by 4.5%, with a 3.6% rise in BIPOC students and a 5% increase in the overall percentages of adult learners.

For the Spring 2024 semester, Bristol has seen an increase in enrollment of 760 students participating in MassReconnect, with a state allocation exceeding $1.3 million in financial aid. Bristol continues to have a positive trajectory. Full-time student enrollment increased 7.4%. Part-time student enrollment has seen a 1.4% increase. The rise in BIPOC enrollment by 2.6 percentage points illustrates the success of Bristol’s ongoing efforts towards fostering inclusivity and diversity within its community. Additionally, the adult learner population has seen a notable surge, with an increase of 8.1%. These trends underscore Bristol’s commitment to providing accessible and inclusive higher education experiences for its students.


“A college degree does not have to come with a great deal of debt. In fact, 64% of our new incoming students graduate with zero debt,” said Alaina Marcotte, Director of Financial Aid. “Bristol’s low tuition costs combined with scholarships and other cost-saving options can result in an affordable education. The first, and most important, step is to fill out the FAFSA.” The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) opens doors to a number of different cost savings options that many times are applied without any further action. Massachusetts also has the Tuition Equity Law which passed last summer and provides in-state tuition rates and equal access to state financial assistance to students regardless of their immigration status via the newly introduced Massachusetts Application for State Financial Aid also known as MASFA.” Bristol student Faith Amaral is seeing the benefit. Juggling a family and maintaining a demanding role as a police officer for 17 years, she never envisioned returning to school. “This opportunity represents more than financial support—it symbolizes belief in your potential and dedication to your future,” she said, highlighting that MassReconnect served as the catalyst for her college comeback and provided the motivation to earn a degree in criminal justice.

MassReconnect INFO

565Total students awarded
$954,503Total amount awarded
$1,689Average student award