By Ted McEnroe, Senior Director, Communications and Digital Media
October 31 brings a lot of things, most often ones that involve costumes, tricks, treats and a lot of candy. It also brings an end to College Month, the month-long effort led by Success Boston and the Boston Public Schools to help students understand their post-high school options and get ready to be successful in their postsecondary careers – most often, 2- or 4-year college. All month long, BPS students, staff and alumni, along with dozens of partners and colleges around Massachusetts work together to help students understand their options, learn about opportunities and get support with a college and financial aid process that can feel overwhelming, especially to first-generation college applicants.
It’s been a resounding success. But it might not be so without a component that the Boston Foundation featured at the Edgerley Center for Civic Leadership earlier this month. Over more than a decade, Success Boston has worked at the college level, with BPS students and graduates, to give them the support they need to navigate higher education from the inside. The program has helped raise the number of BPS graduates completing their higher ed programs by 77 percent in a decade, and at even higher rates for black and Latino students. But earlier this month, we took a look at the overall success of the program as it expanded from about 300 students from each BPS graduating class before 2015, to about 1000 students from each of the classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The new report by Abt Associates (and associated forum), entitled Scaling Up, explores whether students receiving coaching from a dedicated cadre of coaches to better navigate the trials and challenges of college were more likely than their peers to persist through their first few years of school without “stopping out”, leaving with an expressed plan to return that almost always fails.
The results are promising. Success Boston students do stay in school at a higher rate than their peers. But two interesting trends are emerging. First, the gap is narrowing. Normally that would be a concern, but there is a second trend the new data capture. Both Success Boston and non-Success Boston students are persisting at higher rates than either coached or non-coached students did previously.
What could that mean? While one set of data is too little to draw definitive conclusions, it suggests a broader trend, that the coaching supports pioneered in Boston by Success Boston are changing the way colleges are supporting their students and/or how BPS is preparing them. If that’s the case, then Success Boston may be achieving its overarching goals – to increase the percentage of ALL Boston Public Schools graduates who are completing their postsecondary work, and to change the way we think about success for this generation of students. No longer is a high school degree enough – in an economy that benefits those with education to capitalize on business needs and trends and harshly punishes those without, a postsecondary plan, and credential, are the new basic need. If Boston can embrace that goal, there’s no reason we won’t see continued improvements in persistence – as the rising tide of higher goals lifts every boat.