We need to help more urban students across the finish line to a post-secondary credential.

Living Cities is open sourcing our 2014 annual report, asking folks to respond to the question: “What will it take to achieve dramatically better results for low-income people faster?” This blog is a response to that question. In the coming weeks, we will showcase a diversity of points of view around this question. Learn more about the event and follow the conversation on social media with #NewUrbanPractice.

There is a host of research that shows post-secondary degrees drive large benefits – greater lifetime earnings, better health outcomes, higher levels of civic engagement and more. This has led to concerted efforts across the country to get more high school students into college or a post-secondary program.

But that is not nearly enough, and there is no better place to demonstrate this than Boston. Here, we have a world-class knowledge economy and we are known for our wealth of colleges and universities. In fact, Boston used to be extremely proud of its college enrollment rate, which at over 60% was very high for an urban district.

However, a 2008 study funded by the Boston Foundation revealed that only 35.5% of Boston Public School (BPS) students who enrolled in college actually completed their degree within seven years. Even worse, when this data was combined with high school dropout rates and college enrollment rates, we estimated that a mere 7.5% of BPS entering 9th graders in a non-exam district high school would go on to graduate college within seven years of earning their high school diploma. In our knowledge economy, this means the vast majority of Boston high school students will likely face barriers to opportunity, income, wealth and overall well-being.

College Completion Rate

70% Success Boston aims to double the college completion rate for Boston Public School students, increasing it from 35% to 70%.

In response, we joined public and private partners around the city, including the BPS and then Mayor Menino, to launch the Success Boston College Completion Initiative, with the audacious goal to double the college completion rate for BPS students from 35% to 70%.

Through Success Boston, we provide students with a coach for their first two years in school. The coach helps students navigate challenges so that they don’t get derailed. Coaches help with things like reliable transportation to class, selecting classes, child care and health insurance. It is a common sense idea that that when you have someone to help you, you’ll do better. It is also something that many middle and upper income students can take for granted.

Two young participants in the Success Boston initiative.

Two student participants in the Success Boston Initiative. Image credit: Richard Howard for the Boston Foundation.

Coached students have year-to-year persistence rates that are 20 percentage points higher than their counterparts. Some 2,000 students have been in the program, and already the class of 2006 has achieved a 49% completion rate. This is higher than the national average, truly extraordinary for an urban district serving primarily low-income students. But we’re not satisfied and are sticking with our original goal of 70%.

A knowledge economy richly rewards those who are well-educated, but harshly punishes those who are not. There is no silver bullet for ending poverty, but a good education is as close as we’re going to get.

Image credit: Richard Howard for the Boston Foundation