How Hudson County Community College’s Hudson Scholars Program Became a National Student Success Model

Conceived during the turmoil, disruption, and fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, the holistic Hudson Scholars program combines proactive student support, financial stipends, high-impact educational experiences, and high-touch early academic intervention. To date, more than 2,500 HCCC students are benefitting from the program, which is regarded across the nation as a model for student retention and college completion.

The story of Hudson Scholars’ development and significant achievement rates demonstrate how seizing an opportunity to pursue a big idea with imaginative thinking made college retention and completion a reality for far more students than previously imagined.

The Challenge

With campuses in Jersey City (the most diverse city in the United States), Union City, and Secaucus, NJ, HCCC students reflect the ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, and linguistic diversity of New Jersey’s Hudson County. Fifty-five percent of students are Hispanic or Latino, 13% Black or African American, 12% White, 8% Asian, and 4% Other; and 34% are returning adult learners (age 25 or older). One-third of all HCCC students were born outside of the United States.

Nationally, community college completion ranks far below rates of four-year peer institutions due to the collective open-access missions of two-year colleges. HCCC students shoulder challenges that too often prevent them from completing their degree work. On average, 77% of HCCC students begin their college education enrolled in developmental math or English coursework, with 23% of those students also enrolled in English as a Second Language. Additionally, a majority of HCCC students report food and housing insecurity, many students work full-time to support their families, and 80% of enrolled students receive financial aid.

“We know that empowering more students to earn a college degree is transformational for the students, their families, and the community at large,” said HCCC President Dr. Christopher Reber. “By successfully completing their college degree work, students are more likely to earn a family-sustaining wage, which in turn provides potential economic and tax revenue increases on the local, state, and national levels. Hudson Scholars addresses not only student success, but also social justice and equity. For HCCC, taking action to help all students succeed was not a choice, it was an imperative.”

  • New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) that serves students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds with individualized advisement, academic support, and financial grants. EOF student are 47% more likely to be retained fall-to-fall, and twice as likely to earn a credential in three years; and

  • City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which includes financial incentives, small advising caseloads, and block registration.

HCCC’s mission is to “provide its diverse communities with inclusive, high-quality educational programs and services that promote student success and upward social and economic mobility.” Student retention and college completion are top priorities, but favorable student success initiatives are always personnel-intensive and financially demanding. It is a challenge to commit to bold initiatives when there are no guaranteed results. But as many institutions discovered in Spring 2020, disruption is also a catalyst for innovation.

Opportunity Arises

Dr. Reber is a proponent of Robert Kennedy’s take on the George Bernard Shaw quote: “Some see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’” When the pandemic surfaced, HCCC regrouped and quickly returned on course, balancing new responsibilities in disease migration and tracking while never pausing its student success work. In Spring 2021, the College realized that a windfall of COVID federal stimulus funding through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) could be utilized to build a retention and completion model based on two highly successful programs:

The Evolution of HCCC Hudson Scholars

Dr. Reber assembled a leadership team to act as the architects of Hudson Scholars. Team members included Associate Dean of Advisement Dr. Gretchen Schulthes and Director of Institutional Research John Urgola. Together, the team set about developing a customized, holistic and sustainable program that would begin within a few short months in fall 2021 and would serve 800 HCCC students, four times the number enrolled in the HCCC EOF program. The program plan included:

  • Hiring five masters-prepared Academic Counselors who meet with students, work closely with faculty, monitor progress reports, monitor outside factors that may impede students’ progress, and make referrals to on-campus services such as tutoring and mental health counseling. These counselors’ caseloads are 80% less than those of other advisors.

  • Engaging faculty to partner with Academic Counselors, provide students’ progress reports at critical times, act as Hudson Scholars champions, and eventually serve as mentors.

  • Planning and creating a customized, easy and accessible reporting tool that prompts faculty to provide feedback on Hudson Scholars students, thereby enabling the Academic Counselors to follow up about needed student interventions in addition to positive reinforcement of students’ progress and success.

  • Establishing incentive engagements for students to earn up to $625 per semester for meeting with their Academic Counselors four times each term and completing assigned monthly tasks. 

  • Offering inspirational experiences such as attendance at Broadway plays, museums, field trips to businesses, and others.

Before proceeding, an extensive financial feasibility analysis was conducted to predict whether Hudson Scholars could approximate EOF success on a much larger scale, and potentially pay for itself. The leadership team determined the program must be sustainable, and that leveraging one-time grant funds as seed investment for a program that could self-sustain would be game-changing.

Positive Outcomes Beyond Expectations

Hudson Scholars has grown from an initial cohort of 800 students to more than 2,500 students. The program’s initial two-year investment was $1,054,460. Combined enrolled tuition for Fall 2021-Spring 2022 totaled $6,260,233, which was $1,376,190 more than expected. The increase resulted in $321,730 in net revenue. Further, over the last three years, the ratio of HCCC students receiving intensive counselor support increased by 575%, proving the program is now reaching exponentially more students.


  • Hudson Scholars has achieved a fall-to-fall retention rate of 70%; Hudson Scholars students are significantly more likely to be retained and continue their education.

  • Term-to-term persistence rates of Hispanic or Latino students who work with Hudson Scholars Counselors increased by over 40%, while Black or African American students increased their likelihood of persisting by over 60%.

  • Hudson Scholars who meet with their counselor monthly are retained for the following semester at a rate of over 90%.

  • Students 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.


  • Fall 2021 Hudson Scholars earning a credential within two years represented a threefold increase compared to students of the same academic profile from Fall 2018 to 2020.

  • The two-year completion rate for traditionally underrepresented (Hispanic/Latinx and Black/African American) Hudson Scholars represented a threefold increase compared to 2018-20.

  • Hudson Scholars are effectively graduating within half the time of their historical peers.

The Highest Praise for Hudson Scholars Comes from Its Student Participants (Who Responded Anonymously)

  • “It was a great experience being part of Hudson Scholars. It was great to know I could meet with someone monthly to talk about my classes and how to make my schedule. It really took a lot of stress off my shoulders knowing I didn’t have to figure it out on my own and I that I wouldn’t be messing things up. Plus the money was good too.”

  • “The team and my advisor have been a very big help with me during the semesters and then some. They always make sure I’m doing the right thing and I’m caught up with my work. The money also helps a lot since I don’t get any financial aid, so paying for books and tuition is a little easier.”

  • “I am very glad to be part of Hudson Scholars and truly enjoy how they care for their students and use their feedback constantly. Having extra support is extremely helpful.”

  • “I think this program is amazing. I felt the tremendous support my counselor gave me helped me keep going and excel. I think this program gave me that little push I needed and therefore it is essential to continue it for other students starting their HCCC path.”

  • “Thank you so much. My time at Hudson was smooth and the resources were amazing. I am in a happy place and going to a university; it’s like a dream come true. I never thought I could do this.”

“We are very proud to report that the Hudson Scholars program is now self-sustaining, and that we are scaling the program for ALL HCCC students going forward,” Dr. Reber stated.

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About Hudson County Community College

Hudson County Community College serves more than 20,000 credit and non-credit students annually. The College offers nearly 90 degree and certificate programs, including award-winning English as a Second Language; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); Culinary Arts/Hospitality Management; Nursing and Health Professions; and Humanities and Social Sciences. The HCCC Culinary/Hospitality Management program was ranked number six in the U.S. by Best Choice Schools. The College’s School of Continuing Education and Workforce Development offers cutting-edge, industry recognized, stackable credentials in alignment with high-priority workforce needs.

HCCC has partnerships with major four-year colleges and universities in the greater New Jersey-New York area and beyond, accommodating seamless transfer of credits for further undergraduate and graduate education.

The College’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has been recognized with the 2021 Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) Northeast Region Equity Award; the “INSIGHT Into Diversity” 2021, 2022 and 2023 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award, this year honoring HCCC as one of six community colleges nationally to be named “Top Colleges for Diversity;” and the “INSIGHT Into Diversity” 2022 and 2023 Inspiring Programs in STEM and 2024 Inspiring Programs in Business Awards. HCCC is a finalist for the 2024 American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) Awards of Excellence in seven national categories.

For the second consecutive year, HCCC was selected as one of 20 community colleges in the United States to be named among the “2023 Most Promising Places to Work in Community Colleges” by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) in collaboration with “Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.” The College was one of 22 community colleges in the nation, and the only college in New Jersey, to be recognized by ModernThink LLC and the “Chronicle of Higher Education” as a 2022 and 2023 “Great College to Work For®.” HCCC is one of two colleges in the United States to be named a Top Ten Finalist in all three program categories for the nationally recognized 2023 Bellwether Awards, and received the 2023 Bellwether Award for the College’s cutting-edge “Hudson Scholars” program, and the 2024 Bellwether Legacy Award. The College’s exemplary work in advancing student success has been recognized with 2024 “Leader College of Distinction” designation by Achieving the Dream, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing community colleges as catalysts for equity and mobility in their communities. HCCC was also presented the Campus Prevention Network Seal of Prevention by Vector Solutions for demonstrating leadership in digital prevention programming focused on student safety, well-being, and inclusion