Last month, as Boston voters contemplated who will be the next mayor, thousands of Boston high school students were considering choices of their own: on what path they will take after graduation. October was “College Month” in Boston, a program sponsored by the Boston Public Schools to educate students about their post-graduation opportunities and the critical need for continuing their education in college.
The two candidates for mayor have demonstrated a strong commitment to education. Certainly when it comes to higher education, the facts are irrefutable. The average college graduate will earn $1 million more during their lifetime than someone who has only completed high school. And it’s not just getting into college that matters; it’s getting through. Those with “some college” on their resume will earn $800,000 less than a bachelor’s degree holder.
Despite these facts, too many Boston Public Schools graduates decide or are forced to skip college, or leave before they get their degrees. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, spurred by a 2008 Boston Foundation-sponsored report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, laid down a marker. He called for the city to double the BPS college completion rate from 35 percent for the Class of 2000 to 70 percent for the Class of 2011, and Success Boston was born.
The Success Boston program focuses on “getting ready, getting in, and getting through” college by creating an unprecedented partnership between the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Foundation, UMass Boston, and dozens of colleges, universities, and nonprofit partners. The collaborative works together to encourage BPS graduates to pursue higher education. It resolves to reduce the number of BPS students who are channeled into remedial courses when they get to college. It provides coaches for Success Boston students who can guide them to academic, financial, and other resources to keep them on the right track through their academic careers.
The results speak for themselves — both overall and within Success Boston. Since the 2008 report, the six-year graduation rate for BPS graduates has jumped to 49 percent, perhaps the highest of any major urban district in the nation. For the Success Boston students, researchers have found them as much as 20-25 percentage points more likely to stay in college than their BPS peers. To put it another way, Success Boston students were only a third to a half as likely to drop out.
At UMass Boston, the university has decided to expand the coaching model to include all incoming students from the Boston Public Schools, not just those who join Success Boston.
With a new mayor and a new superintendent of schools coming to the city, it’s time to ensure that college success doesn’t fall off the radar screen. We are encouraged overall by the candidates’ interest in improving and innovating within the Boston schools — investing in innovation, improving facilities, changing the structure of the school day with charters, and other autonomous schools leading the way.
But in the end, our 21st-century economy requires us to support our students not just through high school but also beyond. Today’s economy rewards those with an education to seize opportunities, and it harshly punishes those without that education.
It’s not just students who have an opportunity to set a course for a bright future in higher education. We call on our mayoral candidates to ensure they will continue the commitment to a future in which BPS students have the tools to succeed beyond high school — where getting ready, getting in, and getting through college is not an aspiration but an expectation, carried through from one mayor and one superintendent to a new generation of city leadership.
Paul S. Grogan is president and CEO of The Boston Foundation. J. Keith Motley is chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston.