How a New Boston Program Is Helping Students with College Loan Debt

The Boston Bridge pilot program will help low-income high schoolers—one gratis class at a time.

drowning debt

Photograph by Ken Richardson. Model, Akira Ontsuka/Model Club. Hair, Laura Dillon. Makeup, Es Moon

As anyone struggling with backbreaking loans can attest, college just keeps getting more and more expensive. The average yearly tuition at UMass Boston is $13,436, a 6 percent increase from last year alone—and that doesn’t even cover the cost of books or room and board. It’s enough to make any incoming freshman break into a sweat. Enter the Boston Bridge pilot program: Launching this month, it will offer free (yes, you read that right) bachelor’s degrees to low-income high schoolers in the city.

So how does it work? Building on previous initiatives, the city-state collaboration will allow students who qualify for a Pell grant—and graduate from a city public, parochial, or charter school—to attend Bunker Hill, Roxbury, or MassBay community college for two years, then transfer to a four-year state college to earn a bachelor’s degree at no cost (after exhausting other forms of financial aid). The only catch? They need to maintain a 3.0 grade-point average.

The program serves a particular need in the Hub, advocates say. “Education is an enormous factor in earning power and social mobility—in Boston, 77 percent of jobs will require some form of post-secondary education by 2020,” says Trinh Nguyen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development. And it could be merely the tip of the iceberg. For college students at public institutions across the state, a “Finish Line Grant” proposal currently before the Massachusetts legislature could provide one full year of tuition and fees for those with a first-year GPA higher than 2.0 and a household income less than $135,692, which is twice the state median. Because a good education should be priceless.