Boston to test tuition-free college program

Gov. Charlie Baker chats with high school students before announcing with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh a new tuition-free program. (Photo: Office of Gov. Charlie Baker)

Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh have unveiled a tuition-free college program for low-income students in Boston.

The Republican governor and the Democratic mayor this week launched the new college affordability program for high school graduates in the city. The aim is to allow eligible students to complete four-year degrees without paying tuition or mandatory fees.

The program, called The Boston Bridge, will be open to 2017 high school graduates who live in the city.

The state and the city said they’ll cover students’ tuition and fees, taking federal Pell grants into account.

“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.

Walsh said the partnership means “a free bachelor’s degree is within reach” for low-income students.

Eligibility requirements

To qualify for the tuition-free program, eligible students must meet federal Pell grant income standards and enroll full time at Bunker Hill Community College, Roxbury Community College or MassBay Community College.

The students will be required to complete their associate degrees within two and a half years before transferring to state public colleges or state universities.

City and state officials estimate the new program will cost between $14,000 and $15,000 per student for the third and fourth years of college, after a student transfers from community college to state university. Those costs will be split by the city and state.

The total costs will depend on how many students enroll, and how many graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

Building on other programs

The new tuition-free college program builds on Boston’s Tuition Free Community College initiative and the state’s Commonwealth Commitment, which were launched last year.

Walsh said Boston’s Tuition Free Community College initiative has helped 50 public school graduates in Boston attend community college.

The Commonwealth Commitment program offers discounted tuition and fees to state residents who earn a bachelors’ degree at any public four-year institution after first earning an associate degree at a community college, while maintaining a 3.0 grade point average and graduating within four-and-a-half years.

As of April, 2017, 80 students statewide were enrolled in the program.

State Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago said The Boston Bridge program was built to help students get from high school to college commencement.

“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,” Santiago said in a statement.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren — a Democratic candidate in next year’s gubernatorial election — said the program isn’t a solution for the state as a whole.

Warren has proposed free tuition for Massachusetts residents at all public colleges and universities in the state.

“Every child in Massachusetts, regardless of where they are born, who their parents are, or how much money they have, should be able to go to college without signing their lives away to crushing student loan debt,” Warren said in statement.

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