Boston Guarantee: College and a Job After Graduation

Corporate Leaders Vow $5 Million Endowment

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A group of Boston business leaders announced last week a plan that will guarantee to every high-school graduate in the city the financial resources for college and a job after college graduation.

In the most ambitious effort of its kind in the nation, the corporate leaders have pledged to establish a $5-million endowment to pay for the plan, which expands on existing agreements between the businesses and schools.

"Our goal is that no qualified student will be denied a higher education because of a lack of financial advice and financial resources," said Edward E. Phillips, chairman of the New England Mutual Life insurance Co., which spearheaded the effort.

Money from the endowment will be used to place college counselors in high schools to advise students on the availability offinancial aid and to provide "last-dollar" scholarships to bridge the gap between students' resources and college costs.

In addition, the firms have pledged to give top priority to hiring Boston high-school graduates after they complete postsecondary education.

Laval S. Wilson, Boston's superintendent of schools, said the program would provide hope for the city's disadvantaged students. "Too many of our youths have the ability, but not the funds, to reap the career and financial success a college education permits," he said. U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, in a letter to the Boston Plan for Excellence in Education, which sponsors the program, praised it as a national model. "Once in a while, an idea emerges that captures our imagination," he wrote. "Your effort ... is one of those ideas." "Not only will Boston students benefit from this unique and innovative plan," Secretary Bennett added, "but once other cities and towns learn of its potential, similar programs will begin and students across the nation will gain from your inspiration."

Many Below Poverty Line

A large proportion of Boston's students could take advantage of the program, school department figures show. Three-fourths of students in the Boston Public Schools come from I single-parent families, 60 percent I from families on welfare, and nearly half from families below the poverty I line, according to the department. Currently, few students from Boston schools complete college, said John Larkin Thompson, president of Blue Shield of Massachusetts and ; chairman of "the Vault," a group of about two dozen leading area firms, many of which are contributing to the program. Less than a fourth of the city's 9th graders go on to college, and of those who do, about 10 percent graduate, he said.

The new endowment is aimed at raising that proportion, Mr. Thompson said. The funds will go to a program, known as the Action Center for Education Services and Scholarship, or ACCESS, which began with a $1-million contribution from New England Life in 1985. In its first year, ACCESS provided approximately 100 scholarships averaging $500 each; this year, 150 students received scholarship' averaging $535 each. Of the first group, 95 percent remain in college in their sophomore year, according to Robert Sperber, special assistant to the president of Boston University. "The retention rate is really outstanding," he said. In addition, more than 1,000 students have received financial-aid counseling, according to ACCES officials. Until the program's inception, Boston's 367-to-l student-counselor ratio had made it difficult for students to receive college counseling, the officials add. The expanded program will enable at least five times as many students to receive aid, Mr. Thompson said.

Job Guarantees

But as more students become aware of the program, the number who will plan to go on to college should increase, he added. "We hope ~ the number of students going to college will be so great that we'll have to go out and raise more money." The job-guarantee program is based on the Boston Compact, a four-year-old agreement between the schools and 350 local businesses to provide jobs for the city's highschool graduates.

In the first year of the compact, companies found jobs for over 400 high-school graduates, a number that has risen each year. The program has been so successful, according to James Darr, executive director of the Boston Private lndustry Council, that 95 percent of the city's recent high-school graduates are either in college or working full time. This year, businesses will place more than 1,000 graduates in jobs, according to Mr. Darr.

But if the ACCESS program is successful, that number may decline at first, he added. "As we are successful in getting people into college, there will not be as many high-school graduates in full-time employment." In time, those students will be able to compete for professional, management- level jobs, Mr. Darr said.

The greatest impact of the program will be seen in the future, business leaders said. "This gives students I something to strive for," said Mr. Thompson. "They know that their education won't come to an end because of a lack of financial support."

Vol. 06, Issue 02, Pages 1, 19

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