Free College

Boston and Massachusetts Go All In with Free College Program for Pell Students


The city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts have expanded their respective free college programs and teamed up to encourage eligible students to take advantage of the "bridge" they want to build between high school and college completion. Mayor Martin Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker announced the new pilot program, the "Boston Bridge," which will be open to all 2017 high school graduates who live in Boston, including those who attended public schools, charters and parochial schools.

The new initiative builds on the city's "Tuition Free Community College" project, which launched a year ago. In the program, low-income public school graduates could attend one of three local community colleges and pay no tuition. Since launching its tuition-free community college program, 50 Boston students have participated by attending community colleges, and 94 percent are on track to finish the first year.

The state's "Commonwealth Commitment" offered deeply discounted tuition and fees to state residents who earned an associate's degree at one of Massachusetts' two-year schools and then went directly into any public four-year institution while maintaining a 3.0 grade point average throughout.

Under the newest program, students from Boston who qualify to participate in the Commonwealth Commitment will be able to earn their bachelor's degrees without having to pay any tuition or mandatory fees after considering Pell grants and discounts and credits from the state program.

Eligible students need to meet federal Pell grant income standards and need to enroll as full-timers in one of the three community colleges that participated in the earlier program: Bunker Hill Community College, Roxbury Community College or Massachusetts Bay Community College. To be eligible to continue to a four-year school, they must complete their associate's degree within 30 months, maintain that same 3.0 GPA, move directly into any one of the state's public universities and agree to pursue one of 16 degree programs (with a few variations) that articulate with transfer pathways developed by the community colleges:

  • biology
  • business
  • chemistry
  • communications & media studies
  • computer science
  • criminal justice
  • early childhood education
  • economics
  • English
  • history
  • liberal arts
  • mathematics
  • political science
  • psychology
  • sociology
  • STEM natural/physical sciences

Graduation must take place two years after they've transferred to the four-year school.

Participants will also receive a financial contribution equal to 10 percent of the school's tuition and mandatory fees, to help with school-related expenses each semester.

"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," said Governor Charlie Baker in a prepared statement.

"We built the Boston Bridge to take students all the way from high school to college commencement," added Commissioner of Higher Education, Carlos Santiago. "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."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.