Hudson County Community College’s ‘Hudson Scholars’ Program Wins 2023 National Bellwether Award

March 3, 2023

March 3, 2023, Jersey City, NJ – On Tuesday, February 28, 2023, Hudson County Community College’s (HCCC) “Hudson Scholars” program was recognized with the 2023 National Bellwether Award. The honor was presented at the 2023 Bellwether College Consortium “Community College Futures Assembly” in San Antonio, Texas.

The nationally acclaimed Bellwether Award recognizes cutting-edge, trendsetting programs that address critical issues facing community colleges through applicable research and the promotion and replication of best practices in Instructional Programs and Services, Workforce Development, and Planning, Governance and Finance. The Bellwether Award has been compared to football’s Heisman Trophy because it is competitively judged and awarded by respected peers in leadership positions. 

Ten Bellwether Program Finalists from across the United States were selected to compete in each category, and the rigorous selection process included two rounds of judging by peers and academicians in the field. The finalist teams made presentations to a jury of anonymous judges that included community college national association leaders, college leaders, business and technology leaders, and national policy influencers.


John Urgola, HCCC Director of Institutional Research and Planning; Dr. Gretchen Schulthes, HCCC Director of Advisement; Dr. Christopher Reber, HCCC President; Natalie Jimenez, HCCC student and “Hudson Scholars” participant; and Mackenzie Johnson, “Hudson Scholars” Academic Counselor.

John Urgola, HCCC Director of Institutional Research and Planning; Dr. Gretchen Schulthes, HCCC Director of Advisement; Dr. Christopher Reber, HCCC President; Natalie Jimenez, HCCC student and “Hudson Scholars” participant; and Mackenzie Johnson, “Hudson Scholars” Academic Counselor.

In addition to the Instructional Programs and Services category, HCCC was also a Top Ten Finalist in the Workforce Development category (“Gateway to Innovation” program) and Planning, Governance and Finance category (“Building an Inclusive and Engaged Workforce”). As such, the College was one of only two community colleges in the United States to be invited to compete in all three program categories.

Dr. Christopher Reber, HCCC President, led the “Hudson Scholars” team, which included Dr. Gretchen Schulthes, Director of Advisement; John Urgola, Director of Institutional Research and Planning; Mackenzie Johnson, “Hudson Scholars” Academic Counselor; and Natalie Jimenez, HCCC student and “Hudson Scholars” participant.

“This award is especially meaningful because the “Hudson Scholars” program reflects our College community’s collective commitment to our students’ success,” Dr. Reber stated. “We offer heartfelt thanks to the Bellwether College Consortium and to all at HCCC who work every day to provide life-changing opportunities for our students and the people of Hudson County.” 

Designed and developed under Dr. Reber’s leadership, the “Hudson Scholars” program utilizes proven best practices of the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) and the City University of New York (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP). “Hudson Scholars” provides proactive advisement, financial stipends, and early academic intervention to ensure that a greater number of students facing financial challenges, language barriers, employment concerns, and family responsibilities complete their college education, achieve their goals, and realize their dreams.

The program is open to incoming students enrolled for at least six credit hours of coursework at HCCC including students enrolled in their final semester of English as a Second Language (ESL), and all levels of Academic Foundations English. “Hudson Scholars” participants have the advantage of meeting regularly with “Hudson Scholars” academic counselors, whose caseloads are 80% smaller than those of other advisors, and who keep students on track with an early-alert system. Counselors keep track of academic progress; prompt students to complete assigned tasks; assist students in setting academic and career goals; monitor outside factors that may impact students’ progress; and make referrals to on-campus services such as tutoring and mental health counseling.

“Hudson Scholars” are further incentivized to engage in high-impact practices each month and receive monthly stipends of $125 to $250 for completing designated tasks and achieving important academic milestones. The stipends are utilized for books and supplies; purchasing food and paying bills; transportation; housing; tuition; childcare; and other purposes.

HCCC formulated the “Hudson Scholars” program to initially serve almost 800 students – four times the number of students enrolled in the HCCC EOF Program. The number of students in the program has since increased to 1,700, and by meeting or exceeding retention benchmarks, the revenue from increased retention has exceeded program costs (salaries/benefits, stipends) that were initially funded using federal stimulus dollars.

“The outcomes of this program are beyond expectations,” Dr. Reber said. “It is immensely gratifying to see the differences the program model is making for our students.”

Some of the most significant outcomes include:

  • First-Time, Full-Time (FTFT) 2021 “Hudson Scholars” persisted fall-to-fall at a rate of 75% , a 32% improvement upon the rate of other students.
  • 62% of “Hudson Scholars” who entered HCCC as part-time students increased their credit load for their second semester. More than 50% of these part-time students increased to full-time status for their second semester.
  • “Hudson Scholars” beginning their fourth semester are being retained at a rate of 61%, a 30% increase over non-Hudson Scholars students.
  • 99% of “Hudson Scholars” who met with their Academic Counselor monthly during their first semester persisted to their second semester.
  • “Hudson Scholars” who worked with their Academic Counselor each semester consistently passed 85% of their classes while earning a 3.1 cumulative grade point average during their first academic year.
  • “Hudson Scholars” who worked with their Academic Counselor each month during their first academic year passed 93% of their classes while earning a 3.4 cumulative grade point average.
  • 21% of fall 2021 “Hudson Scholars” earned 30-plus credits in their first academic year. This is 3.5 times the rate of non-“Hudson Scholars” students and 200% higher than the average student population over the last ten years.
  • More than 20% of 2021 “Hudson Scholars” are on track to graduate in two years. This surpasses the 2011-17 two-year graduation rate by 852%.
  • “Hudson Scholars” has addressed persistence and completion gaps among traditionally underrepresented groups. Hispanic and Latino participants are 52% more likely to persist to Term 4 and 363% more likely than other students to graduate in two years. Black and African American participants are 80% more likely to persist to Term 4 and 275% more likely to graduate in two years.

Students participating in the “Hudson Scholars” program are equally happy with its effect on their quest for a college degree. “I really enjoyed the program, and I felt the one-on-one contact made me more confident,” said “Hudson Scholars” participant Christina Arteta, who is set to graduate this May. “I felt like someone cared, and I was not just another student.”

This is not the first time “Hudson Scholars” has received national recognition. The program was honored by The League for Innovation in the Community College with that organization’s 2021-22 Innovation of the Year Award. HCCC is further scaling the highly successful “Hudson Scholars” model to all students served by the College over the next two years.

Additional Information about the “Hudson Scholars” program is available at