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