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The PIÉS Latinos de Northern Essex Community College (NECC) is a program that helps local immigrants validate their foreign educational credentials and move into better, more in-demand jobs in the local workforce. It assists highly skilled immigrants working in low-skill/low-paying jobs to get into job positions that better align with their professional skills and credentials.

Name of Community College: Northern Essex Community College (https://www.necc.mass.edu).

Title of Program: PIÉS Latinos de Northern Essex Community College

Type of Program: Holistic support services.

Primary Division(s) or Department(s) involved: Lawrence Campus & Community Relations.

Key Partners: We collaborate with a variety of multi-sector partners, including The Center for Educational Documentation, Lawrence Public School, Lawrence Adult Learning Center, Paraprofessional Educator Program, and MassHire (career center).

Populations Served: Highly skilled immigrants, mostly Latinos.

Immigration status required: All eligible regardless of immigration status.

In this Article:

  1. Need for Program
  2. Program Description
  3. Population Served
  4. Goals & Objectives
  5. Outcomes
  6. Collaboration
  7. Success Factors
  8. Challenges Faced
  9. Funding & Sustainability
  10. Contact

1. Need for Program

PIÉS Latinos de Northern Essex Community College (NECC) was developed in 2016 to help local immigrants validate their foreign educational credentials and move into better, more in-demand jobs in the local workforce. More specifically, the program assists highly skilled immigrants working in low-skill/low-paying jobs to get into job positions that better align with their professional skills and credentials and move up the socioeconomic ladder.

2. Brief Description of Program

PIÉS Latinos is a well-rounded program that meets professionals’ needs. The needs vary from academic and/or career development to continuing education be it credit or non-credit. We work with all immigrant professionals, independently from the country of origin, with the process of transferring credits to U.S. higher education institutions; whether they started their education abroad and want to finish it in the U.S. or if they are looking to study in a different field or enter the workforce.  We also provide guidance regarding any state licensures for certain careers.
The entire process may be conducted remotely.  Applications are available electronically and professionals are advised via phone and email.

3. Specific Population Served

Most immigrants served by PIÉS Latinos de NECC are Latinos who have obtained higher education degrees outside of the U.S.  We also work with individuals that have some college courses but never completed their degrees.  However, that is a small number as most already have the equivalent of a U.S. college degree. NECC is a designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and as such we are intentional in providing our materials in both English and Spanish. We are one of the few, if not the only, program nationwide that focuses on the Latinx population.

4. Goals and Objectives

The ultimate goal of PIÉS Latinos de NECC is to increase the number of individuals with college degrees in the Merrimack Valley, specifically in the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts that has one of the lowest numbers of college degree attainment per capita in Massachusetts.

PIÉS Latinos has been very successful at connecting immigrants with English classes, teaching them about resume building, and providing networking opportunities. Goals are measured by the number of foreign credential evaluations we help immigrants complete, the number of immigrants advised, and the number of those connected to additional resources.

5. Outcomes

In four short years, the program has grown and evolved. Originally, it focused solely on credential evaluations, but over time we learned from immigrants that their needs extended far beyond validating credentials. We turned to our network of partners to fostered strategic relationships in the community to expand support services (e.g. hospitals, churches, community-based organizations, etc.).

We guide professional immigrants with a variety of support services such as licensing requirements for specific fields (e.g. accountants); transfer to four-year institutions; connection to potential employers; and the provision of additional workforce training.

We have processed over 700 evaluations and have coached 319 people to date.  Currently, we are tracking and working with many individuals on their short-term goals (validating credentials). We are in the process of creating a system to track long-term goals (coaching, completing a degree, job opportunities, etc.).

6. Collaboration

We work with several key partners to support the needs of our students. We have a special agreement with The Center for Educational Documentation (a company specialized in validating credentials) so our students can drop off their credentialing information and receive advisement directly at NECC. We have a special collaboration with Lawrence Public School, Lawrence Adult Learning Center, and Paraprofessional Educator Program – through this group partnership we have been able to provide academic preparation, ESL classes, and employment opportunities for our immigrant professionals within the school district. Through our collaboration with MassHire (career center), we refer professionals to receive assistance in creating resumes and obtaining workforce training, such as interview skills, salary negotiation, etc.

7. Success Factors

We attribute our success to several factors. We primarily serve the Latino population who often speak limited to no English at all. Thus, being able to offer our services and documents both in English and Spanish has been ideal because this allows us to guide individuals through the processes more easily. Also, we provide individualized services meeting professionals where they are in their career journey. This helps build trust leading to referrals regularly from those we have served in the past. NECC fosters strong partnerships with strategic stakeholders (non-profits, churches, community-based organizations, chamber of commerce, elected officials, local banks, etc.) that consider the college the first point of contact for all higher education-related matters and often refer immigrants to us and support our efforts.

8. Challenges Faced

One of the challenges we have faced is the availability of ESOL classes for professionals. Many of the classes currently offered are for adult literacy rather than professional mastery. The administration is collaborating with the city’s leadership to further a partnership that would allow for more diverse courses at levels needed.

9. Funding and Sustainability

The program is partially funded by the college and actively seeking grant opportunities for further expansion of services and additional scholarships for those not able to pay to validate their credentials and/or to take ESL classes.

10. Contact Information

Name: Noemí Custodia-Lora, Ph.D.
Title: Vice President of Lawrence Campus & Community Relations
Organization: Northern Essex Community College
Email Address: ncustodialora@necc.mass.edu
Phone Number: 978-914-4602

Alternative Contact Information:

Analuz Garcia
Title: Assistant Director of Community & International Relations
Organization: Northern Essex Community College
E-mail Address: agarcia@necc.mass.edu
Phone Number: 978-738-7423

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