Success Boston: How One City Used StudentTracker® Data to Spur Citywide College Completion Efforts
By Antoniya Owens, Education Program Officer, The Boston Foundation
College completion brings extensive and widely documented economic benefits. College graduates earn nearly a million dollars more over their careers and are only half as likely to be unemployed, compared with workers with only a high school diploma.
But the benefits of college completion extend beyond individuals to their cities and their communities. In a city like Boston that prides itself on its rich educational landscape and cutting-edge industries like life sciences, high technology, health care and financial services, boosting college completion is integral to future economic success.
Antoniya Owens, Education Program Officer at The Boston Foundation
Given this, it is not surprising that eight years ago the city held up a mirror to its students’ success in higher education—and then acted on what it learned. In 2008, using college enrollment and degree data from the National Student Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker® for High Schools service, the Boston Private Industry Council and the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University published one of the first studies of a major school district’s college completion outcomes.1 They found that only 35 percent of college enrollees from the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Class of 2000 completed a degree within seven years. (That percentage was later revised upwards.)
“In addition to providing the initial impetus of this work, college completion information from StudentTracker remains integral to both documenting its successes and surfacing new opportunities for action.”
Education Program Officer, The Boston Foundation
In response to the sobering news, Boston’s then-Mayor Thomas Menino called on the city’s leaders to dramatically increase college completion for future BPS graduates. What emerged was Success Boston—an extraordinary coalition between the Boston Foundation; the Boston Public Schools; the City of Boston; 37 local higher education institutions, led by the University of Massachusetts Boston and Bunker Hill Community College; and the business community, led by the Boston Private Industry Council.
This innovative, cross-sector collaboration set the ambitious goals of increasing the college completion rate by half (to 52 percent) for the Class of 2009, doubling it to 70 percent for the Class of 2011, and doing so through a partnership whose direction, activities, and shared accountability are guided by data, including data from StudentTracker.
A significant intervention of Success Boston is transition coaching, through which students in the last year of high school are paired with adult coaches for the first two years of college. Success Boston coaches are equal parts guidance counselors, academic advisors, parental figures, and drill sergeants, whose job it is to help their students tackle multiple obstacles in college. They guide students through routine steps, like course registration or FAFSA completion, and help them navigate hurdles, like unexpected charges on tuition bills.
The Clearinghouse was the primary data source on college enrollment and graduation outcomes presented in Success Boston’s June 2016 report.
Most Success Boston students are economically disadvantaged and many are the first in their families to go to college. For them, a coach can make the difference between making it through the finish line, or falling short and dropping out with thousands of dollars in student loan debt and no degree.
The most recent Success Boston report once again capitalized on college completion data from StudentTracker.2 Authored in June 2016 by the Boston Private Industry Council and Abt Associates, the report found that 51.3 percent of first-year college enrollees from the BPS Class of 2009 completed a degree within six years of high school graduation—within one percentage point of the 52 percent goal set in 2008 (see Figure 1). Equally impressive was the gain in the number of BPS graduates completing college: 1,314 from the Class of 2009, compared to 735 from the Class of 2000—the equivalent of a 79 percent increase. Furthermore, while BPS students who were coached through Success Boston and initially enrolled in four-year colleges completed at similar rates as students without a coach (about 60 percent), coached students had an edge when they attended two-year colleges: 35 percent completed a degree within six years, compared with 24 percent of non-coached students.
Since 2009, nearly 3,000 Boston students have received transition coaching through Success Boston. In October 2014, the Boston Foundation received a Social Innovation Fund grant of $2.7 million from the Corporation for National and Community Service, allowing coaching to expand from 300 to 1,000 students per cohort—close to half of all BPS graduates who enroll in college each fall. Nearly 1,000 graduates from the BPS Class of 2015 are now working with a coach; the number of coached students from the Class of 2016 will likely surpass 1,000. As the Success Boston’s leadership renews its commitment to help Boston students complete college and launch their careers, the commitment to document progress with data from multiple sources remains a critical part of the work. In addition to providing the initial impetus for this work, college completion information from StudentTracker remains integral to both documenting its successes and surfacing new opportunities for action.
1 Sum, Andrew, Fogg, Neeta, Khatiwada, Ishwar, McLaughlin, Joseph, and Palma, Sheila, Getting to the Finish Line: College Enrollment and Graduation, Prepared for the Boston Private Industry Council and the Boston Public Schools, Boston, 2008. Available at: http://www.tbf.org/reports/2008/november/getting-to-the-finish-line-college-enrollment-and-graduation
2 McLaughlin, Joseph, Sullivan, Neil, and Van Eaton, Anika (The Boston Private Industry Council); Linkow, Tamara, Didriksen, Hayley, Gamse, Beth, and Furey, Jane (Abt Associates), Reaching for the Cap and Gown: Progress Toward Success Boston’s College Completion Goals for Graduates of the Boston Public Schools, Prepared for Success Boston, Boston, 2016. Available at: http://www.tbf.org/reports/2016/june/success-boston-2016-report