Report Shows Sharp Rise In Boston Students Succeeding In College

BOSTON — A new report from The Boston Foundation shows a sharp rise in the number of Boston public school students succeeding in college. In fact, Boston students now have a college completion rate that is higher than the rest of the nation.

Compare that with five years ago, when a study showed the city’s high school graduates who went to college had a low graduation rate.

How One Student Is Adjusting

For many students who are the first in their family to go to college, there are a lot of things to adjust to.

“The first day was very surprising to me,” said Ibrahim Mohamed, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “I didn’t expect that many people on the stairs or on the elevator.”

He’s overcome culture shock before. In 2006 his family moved from a Somali refugee camp in Kenya to Michigan, and he spoke no English. But after graduating from South Boston High School, he still wasn’t prepared to understand a college syllabus.

Mohamed took his syllabus to his mentor, Tory Hayes, who’s part of a mentoring program called Success Boston. He helps Mohamed decipher college.

“A lot of the time colleges do offer a lot of support, but first-generation college students don’t always know where to get that support,” Hayes said. “That can be anything from signing up for a tutor or getting a writing coach to help them throughout the semester to working with the financial aid offices to resolve a bill.”

Success Boston was created in 2009 in response to a previous Boston Foundation report that showed students who graduated from Boston public schools were being put in remedial courses in college. And only a third graduated with a degree in seven years.

Now half of the graduates from BPS who go on to college finish in six years. And college enrollment continues to rise. Also fewer students are put in remedial classes to make up for gaps in their learning.

“I think it shows we’re absolutely on the right path to becoming the best urban school district in the country,” the foundation’s president, Paul Grogan, said.

“We’ve achieved now a completion rate that exceeds the national average by several points,” he added. “And when you think that the Boston school system serves primarily low-income, minority youngsters, it’s really an amazing story, even more amazing is that there is every prospect for more improvement because of the Success Boston initiative.”

Success Boston, which is a partnership between the foundation, BPS and area colleges, supports about 250 kids in the program.

The improved graduation rates can also be attributed to more rigorous academics, especially the MCAS graduation requirement, says Boston Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson.

“We certainly have been focusing a great deal more on making sure most of our students reach proficiency on the MCAS,” Johnson said, “we’ve trained over 200 of our high school teachers to offer Advance Placement classes, so we’ve increased rigor there, and we’ve been working really hard to make sure most of our students take Algebra 1 in the eighth grade.”

Still ‘A Lot Of Work To Do’

But there are still gaps that need addressing, Johnson says.

“I think we are still troubled by the fact that there are huge gaps in how our female and our male students are doing,” Johnson said. “And we still see persistent gaps between how our black and Latino students are doing and their white and Asian peers, so we still have a lot of work to do.”

For Mohamed, who is black, the coaching with Success Boston has made his first semester go smoothly.

“I just had my first semester completed and I had the grades I wanted, and with the help of the Success Boston team I feel like I’m on track and will be able to graduate in four years,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed is being modest; he didn’t add he made the Dean’s List at UMass-Boston.

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  • Inci

    This is a great story to bring to light the turnaround trends in the BPS in recent years – we need to hear the upside, with detailed reporting such as this one that goes beyond the top line and delves down into the numbers.

    I appreciate the news of the progress of rising college attendance and graduation rates – even if it is coming far more slowly and far later than it should have for a first world nation like the US. However, If we are preparing for tomorrow’s economy and workforce, college grads who took 6 years will still fall short of the international mark of excellence. So the next goals for BPS and Success Boston and area universities should be

    1) increase the % of students getting into colleges and
    2) have them finish in the normal 4 years instead of 6
    3) track ongoing attendance and graduation from graduate schools.
    4) Instill financial sustainability to ensure BPS has the facilities and resources necessary to keep the pipeline filled with high caliber students (one of which will hopefully be my son).

    • jonshore

      You noted that 6 years fall short of the international mark of excellence. What you have to remember that many countries pay their students living and school expenses while they attend college. It’s what makes it possible for those students to concentrate on school and complete in 4 years.

      What you have to consider is that many Boston students might have to work to support themselves and their families. We have high school students with that responsibility now. They might not be able to financially attend college full time.

  • jonshore

    Yes, and let’s not forget that it is Boston Public School Teachers, who are the front line, in direct service of students, providing them with the rigorous instruction, so students will develop the skills necessary to succeed in college! Boston Teachers are the direct service providers. It’s not Mayor Menino, not Dr. Johnson, not Paul Grogan from the Boston Foundation, and it’s not the paid “partners” (vendors) like Success Boston. It is Boston Public School Teachers! Unlike Paul Grogan who said “when you think that the Boston school system serves primarily low-income, minority youngsters, it’s really an amazing story.” It is no to surprise to Boston Public School Teachers, we have always had high expectations for our students, we expect all our students to succeed!

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