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Mayor Wu announces expansion of early college programs for Boston students

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Tuesday announced the expansion of six new early college programs and innovative pathways at five high schools in Boston for the 2022-2023 school year.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Tuesday announced the expansion of six new early college programs and innovative pathways at five high schools in Boston for the 2022-2023 school year.

The expansion will add computer science and engineering programs at New Mission High School, a health sciences pathway at Brighton High School, an entrepreneurship program at Fenway High School, a biotechnology pathway at Jeremiah E. Burke High School, and a business-finance pathway at Excel High School.

The announcement for the expansion of early college programs in Boston follows Wu’s pledge last week to increase the percentage of BPS students to complete college.

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Early college programs allow high school students to earn college credits while attaining their high school diploma, and innovation pathways provide students the ability to complete coursework and gain work-based learning experience for specific industries, like biotechnology and engineering.

“Expanding early college across [Boston Public Schools] is critical to lowering the cost of a college education,” Wu said. “And we see this as an important piece ... to make sure that our young people are not emerging from the opportunities we’re creating in Boston Public Schools to a life of debt that then continues to be a burden.”

Juan Geronimo Ortiz, a junior at Dearborn STEM Academy in the Computer Science Pathway, said there was a time when he second-guessed if doing an early college program was right for him.

But with the support and encouragement of staff at his school, he was able to achieve something he didn’t think he would accomplish.

“Early college taught me how to be self-disciplined, how to advocate for myself, and gave me a clear vision on what I wanted to do after high school,” Geronimo Ortiz said. “As a student, I learned something. But as a person, I grew.”

One state analysis found that 76 percent of students who attended early college enrolled in higher education within six months of completing high school, a key predictor of graduation, compared to 55 percent of their high school peers.

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In 2017, the state launched the Massachusetts Early College Initiative, which is aimed at making higher education more attainable for students from low-income families and communities of color by helping them earn free college credits and receive support — the program now includes 4,500 students or 1.8 percent of high schoolers.

The school district is applying for a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education office to expand early college pathways across BPS, in collaboration with Roxbury Community College.

If awarded the grant, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius explained that BPS and RCC will design a districtwide early college model and co-create instructional framework and support for underrepresented students, specifically English language learners, to provide access to early college pathways. Currently, 179 BPS students are enrolled in early college programs.

BPS and RCC will partner in a year of planning and develop “new and innovative strategies to engage all learners in rigorous coursework,” Cassellius said.

Additionally, there will be a steering committee comprised of BPS and RCC faculty to design the program tailored to multilingual learners, and engage with school leaders to address structural barriers to student participation.

“Over these past few years, the pandemic has clearly exposed the inequities for many of our students and families, and these expansions address some of these concerns by closing achievement gaps and ensuring an excellent and equitable education along with options for continued advancement for our students,” Cassellius said.

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Boston city and school leaders, higher education officials, and private sector partners lauded the expansion of the programs.

“Early college is one of the ways that we know we can get more students to succeed in college attainment,” said Aisha Francis, the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology President and CEO. College attainment increases their earnings after they graduate, she said, and gives them access to many of the careers needed to produce and be competitive in the region.

Ed Lambert, executive director for the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, said many business leaders feel these programs are an opportunity for them to be engaged with schools to not only develop a talent pipeline but for equity and opportunity.

“We can’t just graduate kids and send them off, we have to be sure that they can be successful,” he said. “That’s what these kinds of programs produce.

State Street, for example, has committed to 40 BPS student internships through the Boston Private Industry Council this summer. Last year, they also donated $1.3 million to four programs in Quincy and Boston.

“We see career-aligned Early College as one core strategy to help Boston students gain tangible experience and skills that will help them become our next employees,” Ron O’Hanley, chairman and CEO of State Street, said.

The Great Divide team explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to thegreatdivide@globe.com.

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Adria Watson can be reached at adria.watson@globe.com. Follow her @adriarwatson.