‘Free’ community college for Boston students? Not really

Given the crash and burn of the IndyCar race venture, continued drip of news about a federal probe of union strong-arming, and a case of kidney stones that put a painful coda on his week, it was easy to miss what looked like big news of a different sort being made by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

On Friday, the mayor led off his monthly appearance on WGBH radio with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan by announcing a new city initiative to pay for two years of community college for all Boston public school graduates. BPS graduates who maintain a 2.2 GPA — a C average — “will have two years of community college for free,” Walsh said on the show. He said the city would be able to afford the initiative by tapping a job training trust developers must pay into.

The hosts gushed over what seemed to be pretty pathbreaking news in the face of higher education costs that are often a huge barrier to students from lower-income families. “You might want to call your candidate Hillary Clinton and tell her about this,” said Braude.

But it turns out Walsh’s vow to have the city provide “free” community college comes with a giant asterisk. The city is pledging only to cover tuition payments for eligible students. Still, that seems pretty significant, and probably would be in most any other state. But not in Massachusetts, where the bizarre way that public higher education institutions charge students taps them for relatively little to cover tuition, while loading as much as 90 percent of the cost of attending into fees and other assessments.

Covering tuition costs to attend Boston’s two community colleges — which is what the program will do — actually translates to shaving 10 to 14 percent off the regular charges at Bunker Hill Community College and Roxbury Community College. Quite a different picture than the full ride suggested by the mayor. The Globe reported on Sunday that  tuition charges at the two schools are $576 and $664, respectively, while their total charges for a year are $5,482 and $4,744.

The upside-down billing system, where fees, which are more nominal add-ons at most colleges, are huge, while tuition, which is usually the heart of college charges, makes up a small part of the cost, has long been criticized as deceptive. It has been part of the criticism of the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship program, which grants free tuition at state four-year schools to top achievers from every Massachusetts high school on the MCAS.

One of the biggest problems for Boston students enrolling at community colleges has not been cost but persistence in finishing the program and getting a degree. The city’s press release announcing the new program points to an earlier Boston Foundation study that found only 15 percent of 2007 BPS graduates who enrolled at community college ended up graduating.

One aspect of the program may reduce the dropout rate. Only those students who pass the placement test given to incoming community college students will be eligible. Many entering community college students aren’t able to pass the tests and must enroll in remedial, non-credit-bearing classes when they arrive at community colleges. Studies have shown students who place into remedial classes are very unlikely to ever get a degree.

The requirement probably makes it unlikely, however, that many students graduating from Boston high schools with only C averages will actually be able to take advantage of the tuition aid.

The program is also restricted to students from low-income families who qualify for federal Pell Grants. The federal program can provide thousands of dollars a year in aid and cover the lion’s share of a community college student’s costs. The added city funding will surely be a help for students able to tap it, but it’s not the blockbuster initiative it sounded like at first.




A state judge refuses to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Sandra Edwards, the former head of the Sex Offender Registry Board, against former governor Deval Patrick. (Salem News)

Edward M. Murphy says the best thing to do with the Department of Children and Families is radically decentralize its responsibilities. (CommonWealth)


IndyCar reaction. Former city councilor Mike Ross bemoans the scrapping of the planned IndyCar race, saying it reflects poorly on Boston’s ability to break out of established routines and embrace new things. (Boston Globe) Former state transportation secretary James Aloisi disagrees, saying IndyCar didn’t reflect the city’s values. (CommonWealth)

Thousands show up for a 5K road race in Andover in honor of Colleen Ritzer, who was slain by one of her students. (Eagle-Tribune)


Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his willingness to settle Syrian refugees. (Boston Globe)


Gov. Charlie Baker’s allies are upping their use of special interest PACs to rake in more money  — with promises of access to the Republican governor in exchange for giving. (Boston Globe)

Hillary Chabot says Baker’s snub of Donald Trump — he says he won’t support him if he’s the GOP nominee and doesn’t plan to go the party’s national convention in Cleveland — could hurt him on multiple fronts at home with conservatives in his party. (Boston Herald)

Trump-pledged delegates won 23 of 27 available slots over the weekend in GOP caucuses around the state, ensuring him more than half of Massachusetts delegate votes in the first round. (Patriot Ledger) Nationally, many of the unbound delegates elected through efforts organized by Ted Cruz’s campaign are beginning to waver in their support of the Texas senator as Trump continues to gain momentum. (National Review)

An Eagle-Tribune editorial slams Left Coast liberals for scuffling with Trump supporters. The newspaper says folks on the East Coast aren’t like that.


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The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show in Providence on Sunday was the final one featuring elephants after years of pressure from animal rights groups over the treatment of the behemoths. (Associated Press)

An Australian entrepreneur offers proof that he is the mysterious creator of the online currency Bitcoin but says all he wants is privacy. (New York Times)


Ludlow school superintendent Todd Gazda says it’s time to move beyond evaluating schools and districts solely on standardized test scores. (CommonWealth)

Malia Obama is heading to Harvard, but not until September 2017, after taking a gap year. (Boston Globe)

A Methuen eighth-grade teacher receives the inaugural Leadership in Holocaust Education Award at the annual ceremony at Faneuil Hall commemorating the genocide. (Boston Herald)

Boston school superintendent Tommy Chang says the city needs to address systems that start “segregating” kids along race and class lines as early as fourth grade through the district’s advanced work classes. (Boston Herald)

A Lowell Sun editorial slams the trustees of Lowell Community Public Charter School for scapegoating Head of School Kathy Egmont for the lack of staff diversity.


The Massachusetts opioid overdose rate is twice the national average, and a lot of cases involve ingestion of both heroin and prescription drugs. (Boston Globe) A treatment facility in Lowell gets early raves. (The Sun)

State officials struggle with what to do with out-of-network billing surprises, where patients are charged for unexpected services not covered by insurance. (CommonWealth)

John McDonough says US House Speaker Paul Ryan would set health care back in a huge way by undoing a key element of the Affordable Care Act. (CommonWealth)

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The Globe profiles Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s chief administrator, a one-time numbers whiz of the Mitt Romney campaign operation. On Shortsleeve’s short-term agenda, revamping the T’s debt structure, a move that officials say could save $235 million over the next 10 years. (Boston Globe)


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Falmouth selectmen will file a suit in the state’s Land Court against members of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals after that board denied a special permit for a municipally owned wind turbine. (Cape Cod Times)

The lobster population in southern New England has sunk to its lowest level on record, prompting regulators to consider management measures to reverse the decline. (Associated Press)

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt backtracks on a solar panel facility on city land. (Salem News)


Wynn land case defendants found not guilty. (CommonWealth)