College access and success programs connect with Boston students, but opportunities remain

New landscape survey captures the breadth of services available to get students into and through postsecondary education, but finds need for improved coordination

May 17, 2018

Boston –A new report conducted by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute for Success Boston finds that Boston students have access to unprecedented levels of support for getting into and persisting in college, but that the effectiveness of those supports would be increased by improved coordination and sharing among schools, community organizations and higher education institutions.

The report, Supporting Postsecondary Success: Understanding the College Access and Success Landscape in Boston, was released this morning at a Boston Foundation event. It tracked more than 150 school and community organizations providing college access and/or college success programs and services to students from Boston. Programs are in place across the city, focused on traditionally underrepresented students. Almost 90% of CAS program participants are from low-income families, nearly three-quarters are or will be first-generation college students, and about three-quarters are Black/African-American or Hispanic/Latino.

“This report demonstrates the significant investment that Boston Public Schools, our higher education system and organizations large and small are making to improve the trajectory for the city’s youth,” said Elizabeth Pauley, Associate Vice President for Education to Career at the Boston Foundation. “But it also draws attention to the need for all of us to ensure that we are building upon each other’s efforts to ensure an even larger percentage of students can succeed in postsecondary education and beyond.”

College access offerings nearly universal in Boston schools

The report breaks out college access and success programs by population and neighborhood served, and also explored programs offered within the 58 high schools in Boston (of whom 55 responded to a request for information). The researchers found 95% of schools reported that they offered some level of lessons, courses, or events focused on college readiness, application, and matriculation. The programs were generally broad-based – three-quarters of schools said more than half their students took part.

In addition, the research tracked 106 programs offered by 75 community-based organizations and higher education institutions. The data show that overall enrollment in college access programs is actually higher than the high school enrollment in the city (meaning many students are taking part in multiple programs), the numbers also suggest that the programs may slightly under-enroll Latino students and over-enroll African-American students relative to the BPS student population at-large.

Not surprisingly, programs also tend to over-enroll low-income students relative to the overall BPS population and to demonstrate an emphasis on working with first-generation college students and immigrant populations. Most commonly, college access programs included college selection and application support, financial aid application support, college campus visits, and academic skill development, but were less likely to work in support of younger learners or adult education programs.

College success programs target the transition to postsecondary school

Programs targeting student success in college also focus on low-income and first-generation college students, as well. One interesting note in the data is that 60% of students in college success programs were female, vs. 40% male. College success programs were most common for first-year students, and were most likely to focus on connecting students to academic resources. However, more than 70% of programs reported offering coaching, academic advising, connections to non-academic resources, and career advising and placement.

Overall, the researchers noted the breadth of available college access and success programs, but also found lower levels of enrollment in the programs by Latino high school students and male college students. The research also showed differences in the availability of programs across neighborhoods – but suggested more data would be needed to determine whether the disparities reflected service gaps or duplication.

The researchers credited recent improvements in collaboration, coordination, and data collection among providers, but still highlighted a need for further formalized coordination, and for better collaboration among funders and a need to come up with plans to make college access and success programs sustainable in the long-term.

Recommendations for a stronger, more unified system

In the end, the report makes 8 recommendations for the college access and success system:

  1. Address disparities in distribution of program resources based on geography, ethnicity, gender, age, and other factors.
  2. Continue developing advanced data systems to track student information and delivery of programs and services.
  3. Structure public and private investments to promote effective, well-aligned initiatives, by increasing the focus on effectiveness and alignment in evaluating programs.
  4. Structure public investments and curriculum to support CAS interventions, in an effort to reduce the dependence on private funding to support college access and success.
  5. Develop structures for collaboration among colleges and universities to strengthen sharing of success interventions.
  6. Consider deepened collaboration among CAS funders, which could help improve accountability and support while reducing duplication across programs.
  7. Assess the merits of specialization versus diversification, by examining where larger multi-service programs and smaller niche systems might be more effective.
  8. Continue to cultivate structures for collaboration, alignment, and leadership in service of a coordinated system. A number of organizations said a coordinating body could help support and guide the system.

The report comes just a month after a Boston Private Industry Council report sponsored by the Boston Foundation found that the number of Boston Public Schools students from the Class of 2011 graduating from postsecondary programs in six years or less was 77% higher than a decade earlier. In all, 52% of BPS grads in the Class of 2011 received their postsecondary credential. Those numbers are expected to rise as college completion data begin to reflect the widespread offerings of college access and completion programs reflected in this report.

The report is available upon request or by visiting


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of more than $1 billion. In 2017, the Foundation and its donors paid $130 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of more than $194 million. The Foundation is a close partner in philanthropy with its donors, with more than 1,000 separate charitable funds established either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. It also serves as a major civic leader, think tank and advocacy organization, commissioning research into the most critical issues of our time and helping to shape public policy designed to advance opportunity for everyone in Greater Boston. The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), a distinct operating unit of the Foundation, designs and implements customized philanthropic strategies for families, foundations and corporations around the globe. For more information about the Boston Foundation and TPI, visit or call 617-338-1700.