Metropolitan Community College is terminating the coordinator of a program that gives Omaha students early exposure to college, prompting concerns from parents that the program itself could soon follow.
Both the college and the Omaha Public Schools say they intend to continue serving the students, typically minorities or from low-income families, in the Bridge to Success program. Metro administrators said they couldn't comment on personnel matters such as the coordinator's release, but they said the program's future is not at risk — although the format will change.
Dennis Pool, finance administrator at OPS, said Metro made the decision to change the program's format.
“We're confident that with the commitments we've had with Metro over the years, that we're going to have a continued program,” Pool said. “It may not look just like Bridge to Success.”
Since 2004, about 800 OPS students have taken free after-school classes in reading, vocabulary and success strategies at Metro through the Bridge to Success program.
The OPS students will still be able to take free classes and build up college credits until graduation from high school, when they qualify for discounted tuition at Metro. But eliminating the program's staffer has led to an outcry from families worried that Metro's and OPS's commitment to the program is waning.
The coordinator, Monica Beasley, said that she has been let go effective Sunday and that she hasn't been given a plan to transfer her duties to colleagues.
Last week, at a meeting with such high attendance that the crowd overflowed into the lobby, Beasley asked Metro's board of governors to save her job. Dozens of students and their families were also there to protest on her behalf.
The program has always been funded with mostly private grants; the college's contribution was Beasley's salary and course instructors.
Jim Grotrian, Metro's executive vice president, said Beasley's duties will be distributed to other staff members, although the details are not yet available. The college is committed to serving students from low socioeconomic-status families, he said. More than two-thirds of OPS students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
“We'll work with them to provide that staff time and resources, like we do with many of our K-12 service district areas, so they can continue their program as they see fit,” Grotrian said.
Beasley, who has been with the program since the start, said it serves an important function in shepherding sometimes vulnerable students through campus life.
Most of the students are the first in their families to attend college. Almost 80 percent of the program's students have gone on to college, with 76 percent of those students staying in college, according to Beasley.
Maurice Kimsey was one of them. He joined during his sophomore year at Central High in 2004 and finished with a semester's worth of college credits to transfer. But it was the intangibles where he found the most value: networking connections, study skills and a sense of maturity that he's not sure he would've developed so quickly without the program.
Today, Kimsey is an electrical engineer with Omaha Public Power District, working in distribution planning, and he said Bridge to Success launched him.
“Don't let a great asset go. These kids are the future,” Kimsey said. “How can you not see that when these kids are graduating?”
Ernie Boykin, a volunteer with the program, said it doesn't seem like the college has a plan for the program without Beasley.
Boykin is a former member of the African American Achievement Council, which founded the program but backed out of the partnership last year. Current representatives of the council couldn't be reached for comment.
Boykin said she can't understand why the college is risking damage to a program that works on a relatively small financial investment.
“Go back to the old system and you'll have students not knowing what to do, when to do it and how to do it,” she said.