>The Boston Globe
>In college, but only marginally
>December 23, 2008
>MUCH SOUL-SEARCHING is taking place on local
>college campuses after a recent study showing
>that college was a bust for almost two-thirds of
>Boston high school graduates in the class of
>2000. Students attending two-year community
>colleges-the least-expensive option-fared the
>worst in the survey by the Center for Labor
>Market Studies at Northeastern University, with
>an abysmal 12 percent graduation rate.
>Specific results for all public and private
>colleges in the study should be available
>shortly after Christmas. But some figures are
>trickling in. Roxbury Community College fell
>flat. Of the 101 students from the high school
>class of 2000 who enrolled in RCC shortly after
>high school, only 6 percent would go on to earn
>a diploma there-or anywhere else-by June 2007.
>Quincy College, a low-profile, two-year college
>on the South Shore, did comparatively well (but
>not good enough) by its 62 Boston students,
>posting a 19 percent graduation rate. Bunker
>Hill Community College, which drew 155 enrollees
>from Boston's class of 2000, yielded a 14 percent graduation rate.
>The study, which was funded by the Boston
>Foundation, strips away some of the hype about
>college attendance rates in Boston. Seven out of
>10 public school graduates may get into college,
>but many lack the preparation to succeed. At
>Bunker Hill, for example, more than 80 percent
>of the Boston students from the class of 2000
>required a remedial math course. Wisely, Bunker
>Hill and Boston school officials are now
>introducing students at some city high schools
>to the placement exams they will face on campus in the coming year.
>The study should put an end to common claims by
>community college officials that their
>graduation rates don't reveal much because many
>of their students transfer to four-year colleges
>before earning associate degrees. In this study,
>a student merely needed to earn a diploma or
>certificate from any institution of higher
>education, not just the original college. And by
>providing at least a six-year window, the study
>made allowances for students who often juggle
>college with work or family obligations.
>Rationalizations are now off the table.
>Bad numbers as motivation
>There will be more than a few red-faced college
>officials when the final statistics are
>released. Only about one-third of students at
>four-year state colleges pulled through.
>Students at four-year, private colleges fared
>best, with a 56 percent graduation rate. Still,
>the study is proving to be a good motivator.
>UMass-Boston, which struggles with graduation
>rates, is expected to take a lead role in
>crafting solutions. And the Boston Private
>Industry Council, a co-author of the study, is
>keeping up the pressure with plans to publish
>graduation data for future Boston public school classes.
>The stakes are highest at the community
>colleges, a traditional choice for students who
>struggled in high school. Mary Fifield, Bunker
>Hill Community College president, has launched a
>program that pairs remedial courses with
>college-level classes for incoming full-time
>students. Students are grouped by ability or
>academic interest and placed with handpicked
>professors who take an interest in their
>academic achievement and social adjustment. The
>college is also planning a "survival skills"
>class for freshmen, focusing on everything from
>reading class schedules to maximizing financial aid.
>At Roxbury Community College, officials say they
>are also launching initiatives with the help of
>a Lumina Foundation grant to provide more
>intensive advising and tutoring, as well as a
>mandatory course on study skills for
>first-semester students. Impending cuts in the
>state budget, however, threaten these offerings.
>Progress on the South Shore
>Self-supporting Quincy College, a public
>community college operated under the auspices of
>the South Shore city, may have a lot to teach in
>tough times. Although the college offers few
>formal retention programs and no on-site day
>care for its roughly 4,000 students, it manages
>to outperform some of its state-operated
>counterparts. College president Sue Harris says
>that student advisers are widely available in the evening.
>The college also offers so-called "nested
>semesters" that allow students to take
>accelerated courses over 10- or even 5-week
>periods in addition to the traditional 15-week
>schedule. The faster pace creates a sense of
>urgency missing on many campuses. Minority
>students, who make up 42 percent of the student
>body, appear to fare especially well at Quincy
>College. Black and Hispanic graduation rates for
>a recent class, says Harris, outstripped that of Asian students.
>No one believes that ill-prepared urban students
>will suddenly cruise through college. But any
>college that can't help at least half to the
>finish line needs to reexamine what value it is
>adding to the educational experience.
>© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.