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.
This program aired on January 17, 2013.