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editorial

College completion is the true test of urban education

For decades, urban school officials have been boasting about their students’ admission rates to two- or four-year colleges. What they rarely mention — or even keep track of — is how those kids fare after arriving on campus. Many drop out. In Boston, however, there is an honest measurement of the school system’s ability to prepare students for higher education.

In 2008, a report commissioned by the Boston Foundation showed that fewer than 40 percent of the members of the Boston schools’ class of 2000 who enrolled in college had received a degree seven years later. That prompted an honest discussion about ways to better prepare students for the academic and social ordeals ahead. The findings prompted Boston school officials to work harder to ensure that students are ready to tackle college work and navigate their way through financial aid systems and student services.

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The effort is working. This week, school system and Boston Foundation officials reported that just a shade under 50 percent of the class of 2006 had completed college within a six-year period. That’s on par with national college completion rates, which include suburban school systems.

The Menino administration has shown an admirable willingness to set aggressive targets in education. It may be out on a limb with its goal of a 70 percent completion rate for members of the class of 2012 who enroll in college. What matters most, however, is that educators continue to put a strong emphasis on college preparedness.

Still, about a quarter of Boston’s high-school graduates lack the motivation, preparation, or both to pursue any form of higher education. And among those who do attend, many of the stubborn gaps persist. The report revealed, for example, that only 27 percent of black male members of the class of 2005 completed college degrees.

This ongoing study by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University is of major importance to the future of Boston’s schools. It’s the right way to judge success. Any urban school system can hype college admission statistics. But Boston is admirably holding itself to a higher standard.

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