We want to commend the Boston Globe for its remarkable reporting on the Valedictorians Project highlighting Boston's educational inequities and the challenges that students, particularly those of color, face in our city and our nation as as they transition from high school to college and beyond. Many of the issues raised in the series--inequity in education, lack of support and preparation for first generation college students, struggles with "belonging," and scarce financial resources--are, unfortunately, all too familiar to those of us working to promote educational attainment for the city's young people.

We know that education is inextricably linked to health, and a person's level of education is closely correlated with life expectancy. As a healthcare provider and member of Boston's business community, Mass General was inspired seven years ago by Success Boston to develop our own college completion program.  In 2011, as the hospital celebrated its bicentennial, our leadership recognized that a college completion program would be of great benefit to the communities we serve--for both the professional prospects and physical well-being of the residents. Within the next few years, Partners HealthCare made a major commitment to Boston's youth, and Brigham and Women's Hospital joined in.

Our approach is a comprehensive and holistic one, where, beginning in the third grade, we strive to engage and excite youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and expose them to health careers that they may not otherwise had envisioned for themselves. From elementary through high school, we provide positive after-school activities, career exposure, college readiness and summer job opportunities to equip our students with the academic and life skills they need to thrive. This work is done in collaboration and in partnership with more than 400 volunteers at the hospital and many other schools and organizations such as high schools in East Boston, Revere, and Chelsea, the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers, Becoming a Man (BAM) and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston.

We currently work with more than 650 students in our core programs and are starting to see striking results as more students graduate college. A study by the UMass Donahue Institute indicates that 76% of the 25 students in our program who started college in the fall of 2012 graduated within five years--much higher than the national 6-year graduation rate of 55%. Eighty percent of our students are of color, and the majority are low income, have a first language other than English, and are the first in their families to attend college. We are most excited to note that out of the 38 students who have now graduated from our class of 2012, 2013 and 2014, 27 are employed (13 at a Partners hospital). Six are enrolled in graduate programs, with one attending medical school in the fall, and five are applying to graduate school.

Many of the proposed solutions from the Globe project have already been incorporated into our programming--closing the college completion gap, helping to instill a sense of belonging and providing financial assistance of up to $5,000 annually. But, the key to our success is building deep and trusting relationships with young people and their families and providing them the preparatory skills needed to apply for college. For those who do attend college, academic coaches support college persistence and graduation, and summer jobs and paid internships are tailored to the students' career interests. We help to build resilience by fostering peer support among the students and providing emotional support as they adjust to college life.

The success of our youth in persisting and graduating from college is a testament to the impact that public/private sector partnerships can have on closing the educational gap in the city. And, having a connection to a thriving Boston business community can help young people gain valuable experience and forge relationships with potential future employers. We view our efforts not only as the right thing to do, but also as an investment in the future workforce. With much more to be accomplished, we urge city, educational, and business leaders in Boston to consider the success of these partnerships and seek new ways to build upon them.

 

Joan Quinlan, Vice President for Community Health

Leslie Aldrich, Executive Director, CCHI