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Success Boston gives city kids a better shot at college

LOW COLLEGE-COMPLETION rates represent a wholesale loss of potential workers for Massachusetts: It’s estimated that 72 percent of Massachusetts jobs will require some college education by 2020. But a fair number of underprivileged students who reach college are struggling to stay there, lost in environments that don’t offer enough personal and academic support. In response, coaching and college completion programs like Bottom Line, a Boston nonprofit, are helping hundreds of disadvantaged students earn a college degree.

Bottom Line and eight other Boston-area nonprofits just received an infusion of funds from the Success Boston college completion initiative — money that will allow them to significantly scale their “coaching for college graduation” programs. Last fall, the Boston Foundation was awarded a $2.7 million intermediary grant from a White House initiative, which has in turn allowed the foundation to significantly expand Success Boston. The late Mayor Thomas Menino, back in 2008, recognized the enormous hurdles that city kids face when they graduate high school from the district: Only about 35 percent of students in the class of 2000 who enrolled in college had graduated with a post-secondary degree. Menino then set an ambitious goal: to double that rate by 2017.


The multi-pronged Success Boston project was thus born — a cross-sector college-completion initiative that has helped more than 2,000 Boston high school alumni from six graduating classes enroll in college and remain there through graduation. It is a singular partnership between multiple private and public entities: the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Foundation, 37 higher education institutions in the area, and nonprofit organizations such as Bottom Line, Sociedad Latina, and Steppingstone.

Thanks to the grant, Success Boston will now triple its impact and serve 1,000 students per year through its nonprofit partners. This number represents almost 50 percent of the college-going population in Boston Public Schools.


The beauty of the Success Boston program lies in its model: It offers intensive counseling, tutoring, and other support to low-income graduates of Boston high schools, and emphasizes transition coaching. First-generation, low-income, or otherwise disadvantaged college students often face a culture shock and have problems adjusting to campus life. Or, if they make it to graduation day, they may lack support networks or career connections to find a job. Success Boston typically pairs a student with a coach beginning in senior year of high school and continuing through at least the second year of college.

The initiative has been moving the needle. Last year, half of the students in the class of 2007 who went on to college had earned a two- or four-year post-secondary degree or credential.

Boston cannot afford to squander the educational future and economic potential of hundreds of the city’s high school graduates, particularly given the poor academic outcomes for black and Latino students in the district — which make up about 75 percent of the Boston Public Schools population. The strength of the Massachusetts economy depends on a highly skilled workforce with post-secondary degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and beyond.

By supporting Success Boston, the federal government is not only highlighting a best-practice model. It’s also helping to keep the American Dream alive by ensuring that more disadvantaged students get their degrees.