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Boston Universities Announce New Plan To Assist Public Schools

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Twenty-five Boston-area colleges and universities announced last week that they will markedly expand their efforts to help the Boston Public Schools reduce student dropout rates, improve the teaching of basic skills, and strengthen their curricula by providing "technical assistance, training, and other services."

The institutions promised to "aggressively recruit" public-school students for admission to college and to provide increased financial aid through additional lobbying and fundraising.

"Currently, the state provides $15 million for the Massachusetts State Scholarship Program. The colleges will work with the schools and businesses to lobby for five or six times that amount," said Robert I. Sperber, special assistant to the president of Boston University and executive secretary of the college presidents' steering committee.

"The colleges will also reach out to the business community to develop corporate scholarships and part-time jobs so that Boston graduates will have additional income while in school," Mr. Sperber said.

In return, the public schools have agreed to guarantee that local high-school graduates will have mastered "skills sufficient to meet college standards in reading comprehension, writing, and mathematics."

The schools also agreed to provide "a sequence of core courses" that will enable students to meet college-entrance requirements; to develop a pupil-retention program to reduce the dropout rate; and to "work to assure the highest standards for recruitment, retention, and promotion of the professional staff," among other stipulations.

Improve Chances for Success

The new agreement is an extension of the local higher-education community's eight-year effort to improve the chances for success of local high-school graduates who go on to college.

The colleges and universities have been working with the Boston school district since 1975, when Judge W. Arthur Garrity's desegregation plan ordered school officials to seek support from colleges and other external agencies. The Boston higher-education institutions are matched as partners with school subdistricts, clusters of schools, or individual schools, and provide about $3 worth of services for every dollar allocated by the state in desegregation aid, according to Mr. Sperber.

Last week, the colleges and universities agreed in writing to work with the schools through the established pairings and through new relationships matching the colleges' strengths with the needs of the school system.

The goal of the agreement is a 25-percent increase, to be achieved by 1989, in the percentage of 9th graders who complete high school and enter Boston-area colleges, according to the contract.

Currently, 47 percent of Boston's 9th graders do not graduate from high school and only half of those who do receive diplomas go on to postsecondary education, Mr. Sperber said.

The higher-education institutions, together with the public-school system, will issue annual reports on the progress of the agreement, their contract says.

Part of the rationale for college involvement is that changing demographics, which indicate a decline in the pool of high-school graduates, are "threatening" academe, Mr. Sperber said. But he noted that the motivation for college involvement goes deeper than assuring that enrollments will be bolstered by attracting more local students.

The health of Boston is critical to the state, and the city's health depends largely on the school system, Mr. Sperber said. By the same token, he noted, the vitality of higher education in Boston is inextricably linked with the social and economic health of the city.

To help the colleges and universities carry out the agreement, the Jessie B. Cox Charitable Trust of Boston has given the college presidents' steering committee a grant of $146,000 to:

Establish a higher-education information center, which will provide information and counseling services to Boston students and parents about postsecondary-education opportunities. The center will receive $71,150 in start-up funds and will be administered by the Massachusetts Higher Education Assistance Corporation, an agency that develops and administers student-financial-aid programs.

Introduce a minority-retention program, which will bring five colleges and five high schools together to improve the success rate of minority students in higher education. The program will be administered by Simmons College and will be supported by an initial planning grant of $64,850.

Initiate an institutional research program, which will furnish accurate data and follow-up information on the performance of Boston high-school graduates who enroll in colleges and universities participating in the agreement. The program will be administered by the University of Massachusetts.

"We are proud of the assistance our institutions have provided to the Boston schools these past eight years through the school-university pairing program," said David C. Knapp, president of the University of Massachusetts and the newly elected chairman of the steering committee. "But [the new] agreement--and the generous grant from the Cox Charitable Trust--means that we can now target our work more directly on helping the high schools strengthen their college-preparatory program and on assuring that well-prepared Boston graduates are able to move successfully to the next rung on the educational ladder."

Mr. Knapp replaces John R. Silber, president of Boston University, as head of the steering committee. Mr. Silber has been widely credited with stimulating the increased involvement of Boston-area colleges with schools since the 1975 court decision.

The formal agreement between colleges and schools is the newest component of "the Boston Compact"--originally a collaborative effort between the Boston schools and local businesses that was established to provide motivation for students who have "lost the sense that achievement in high school leads to jobs or higher education," according to William Spring, president of the Trilateral Council for Quality Education Inc. (See Education Week, Feb. 16, 1983.)

The Boston Compact was originally a priority-hiring agreement aimed at increasing the percentage of high-school graduates who are placed in jobs. Its goals include a 5-percent increase every year in the number of students who graduate from high school and in the number of students who find jobs or go on to higher education.

"If you think of all the coordinated local initiatives in Boston as a house, the roof of the house is the Boston Compact, and the two main supporting walls are the business agreement and the university agreement," Mr. Sperber said.

Colleges and universities participating in the Boston Public Schools/ Education Agreement include: Boston College, Boston Uni-versity, Bunker Hill Community College, Cambridge College, Curry College, Emerson College, Emmanuel College, Harvard University, Lesley College, the Massachusetts College of Art, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Northeastern University.

Also participating are: Regis College, Roxbury Community College, Simmons College, Stonehill College, Suffolk University, Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Wentworth Institute, and Wheelock College.

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