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New year, new visions for education

Panel airs ideas to boost college completion

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 1/11/2017, 9:31 a.m.
Increasing college completion rates could include offering flexible ways to earn credits, providing a clear path to career attainment and ...
Roxbury Community College’s president, Valerie Roberson, (left) spoke during a panel discussion moderated by Boston University Chancellor J. Keith Motley. Right: Anthony Benoit, president of Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. Banner photo

Education leaders sat down at The Boston Foundation last week to discuss how best to boost college graduation rates.

Higher education increasingly is important in the post-recession employment landscape, noted Elizabeth Pauley, TBF senior director of Education to Career. While the BPS has seen signs of progress in its high schoolers’ college completion rates, much remains to be done, said Paul Grogan, TBF president and CEO. Fifty-one percent of college enrollees from the BPS class of 2009 earned a degree within six years, a 10 percent jump over the 2000 cohort. But that still leaves 49 percent not achieving postsecondary credentials in that time frame, he noted.

Gathered to discuss the way forward were Tommy Chang, Boston Public Schools superintendent; Valerie Roberson, Roxbury Community College president; Pam Eddinger, Bunker Hill Community College president; and Anthony Benoit, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology president.

Among the recommendations: offer flexible ways to earn credits to make it easier for students to stay in school, encourage completion by providing a clear path to career attainment and help students meet basic life needs.

Flexible programming

Many spoke of the importance of flexible pathways to graduation. For BPS Superintendent Chang, this means high schools with a broad menu of educational models from which students can select, including competency-based programs in which students are graded on completion of a project or based on meeting some standard, but not on attendance. For Bunker Hill’s Eddinger this can mean providing a variety of pathways to completion and opening opportunities for accruing credits.

Dual enrollment — in which high school students can earn college credits — can significantly increases likelihood of degree completion, Eddinger said, with those entering college with more than 15 credits two to three times more likely to earn a degree. Another idea: acknowledging out-of-classroom learning. For instance, a significant number of Roxbury Community College students work part-time. If a student’s job teaches them skills they would otherwise be learning via a class, there could be a way to assess and credit that, Roberson said. Eddinger also said life struggles such as homelessness can be regarded not just as tragic circumstances but as evidence of the student’s grit and fortitude.

Another way to recognize the value of life experiences is on transcripts. A traditional transcript — limited to just class names and grades — captures too narrow a slice of a student’s merits, Chang said. Instead, he proposed a model similar to a resume or LinkedIn page. This could acknowledge skills a student possessed prior to enrollment, such as multilingualism, Eddinger added. Currently a transcript only reflects language skills if the student formally studied it in class. This new model of transcript also could reflect experiences such as homelessness, she said.

Acknowledging the value in students’ diverse backgrounds also helps create a culturally welcoming environment, which can contribute to student retention, Eddinger said.

Ben Franklin Institute’s Benoit described the success of emphasizing transitional support, such as tutoring, advising on study skills and self-advocacy as a student, and offering “success seminars.” Initially these seminars only were offered to students in developmental courses, but since have been expanded to all, he said.