The Power of Ideas: Paul Grogan

The Boston Foundation president wants to close Boston's opportunity gap. —By Karen Weintraub

Paul Grogan Boston Foundation

Photographs courtesy of the Boston Foundation

Back in 2008, Boston was patting itself on the back, recalls Boston Foundation president Paul Grogan: Studies showed the number of high school students attending college here was high compared with other urban school districts. But then a Boston Foundation study knocked everyone sideways. It turned out that only about a third were finishing their degrees within six years. The implications were huge: College graduates earn $1.4 million more over a lifetime than those with less education. They’re more likely to vote and to avoid prison. They live longer. “We know there are no silver bullets,” Grogan says, “but obtaining a college degree may be as close to a silver bullet as we have.”

Out of that realization grew Success Boston, a pilot program with local nonprofits to match 300 high school students with coachlike mentors from similar backgrounds. “There’s a very pragmatic, not terribly expensive intervention here,” Grogan explains, which “gives these kids an all-purpose resource, like a middle-class family operates.”

Within five years, the graduation rate increased from one-third to one-half—and now, thanks to a social-innovation grant from the Obama administration, the program is being rolled out to 1,000 students this autumn. It won’t end there. Now celebrating its centennial, the Boston Foundation is spending the fall convening a series of panels focusing on the city’s growing inequality gap, and how to confront it. “We’re going to have an opportunity in Boston to do something that no city is doing,” Grogan says.