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City and state come together to offer tuition-free college program for low-income Boston students

The Boston Bridge program aims to make possible a free bachelor's degree for all Boston low-income students, Mayor Walsh said.
graduation, high school graduation
The four-year high school graduation rate is increasing across the state, officials said. Photo: iStock

The city of Boston and the state are coming together to help graduating high school seniors handle the high cost of college.

On Tuesday, Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker announced the launch of a tuition-free program called The Boston Bridge.

The pilot program will be open to all 2017 high school graduates who live in the city of Boston. The program will cover the cost of tuition and mandatory fees for low-income students so they can complete a four-year degree.

The city and the state are working together to cover the students’ tuition costs, and will take federal Pell grants, which are limited to students with financial need, into account.

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“College affordability too often serves as a barrier for students in the commonwealth seeking to complete a degree, and this program is intended to provide more opportunities for a quality education,” Baker said in a statement.

Through the program, students can enter a community college and transfer to a public college after two years in order to earn a bachelor’s degree.

To qualify for The Boston Bridge, students must meet federal Pell grant income standards. They must then enroll full-time at Bunker Hill Community College, Roxbury Community College or Mass Bay Community College to complete their associate’s degree within two and a half years before transferring to a public college or state university in Massachusetts. The cost for room and board is not included in the program.

The stipulation of requiring students to attend college full-time is an important one, officials said. College students in Massachusetts who go full-time earn their degrees at more than twice the rate of those who go part-time, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Center.

The city also noted that nationally less than 20 percent of those who are eligible for a Pell grant earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, according to the Pell Institute.

Walsh described the program as a way to make “a free bachelor’s degree” possible for all Boston low-income high school students.

The Boston Bridge program builds on previous efforts by both the city and state to make college more affordable. Last year, Boston launched a tuition-free community college initiative, which provides free tuition to low-income Boston Public School graduates to the three aforementioned community colleges.

Around the same time, the state announced Commonwealth Commitment, which discounts tuition and fees to Massachusetts residents who earn a bachelor’s degree at any public four-year school after getting their associate's degree at a state community college. That program requires that students maintain a 3.0 grade point average and graduate in 4 1/2 years.

The Boston Bridge is open to all students within the BPS system as well as those from charter and parochial schools. It requires students to enroll in one of the Mass Transfer pathways in order to make sure their community college credits are accepted at public four-year schools.

The program will support the students personally by using resources from nonprofit and business partners who can act as mentors to those who are first-generation college attendees.

“We built The Boston Bridge to take students all the way from high school to college commencement,” said Carlos Santiago, commissioner of Higher Education, in a statement. “Our message to students is clear – if you commit the time and do the work, we’ll be beside you every step of the way to help you complete your college journey while avoiding burdensome debt.”

 
 
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