Boston-area colleges pledge assistance for city's public schools

Twenty-five area colleges and universities - including Harvard University, Boston University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - have agreed to lend more help to Boston's troubled public schools.

Under an agreement reached with the Boston School Committee, the colleges have promised to aggressively recruit Boston students. They also say they will help students find additional sources of financial aid, and will work to support students once they start college.

To fulfill their side of the agreement, the public schools must provide a sequence of courses that will adequately prepare students for college. Together, the new partners hope to increase the number of college-bound students 25 percent by 1989, says Boston University president John R. Silber.

Robert Sperber, assistant to Dr. Silber and a program coordinator, says the initiative is the second phase of Boston Compact, a coalition that provides an avenue for the business community and educational institutions to share some of their resources with the public schools.

Boston public schools, once considered the best in the nation, declined strikingly in the 1970s. Observers say busing battles, lack of a standard curriculum, less stringent academic standards, and political maneuvering by the school committee contributed to the problem. Since 1973, enrollment has fallen from 93,000 to 54,000.

One goal, say program sponsors, is to help more students get into college. Currently, each year just over 1,000 Boston schoolchildren do. Only about half of the students entering 9th grade even graduate from high school. Of those, only 20 to 25 percent go on to college.

Silber says the challenge is to ''introduce the idea of college attendance to a group that hasn't formerly considered the possibility.''

Admission requirements will not be relaxed, university officials say. According to the terms of the agreement, the Boston School Committee must ensure that its graduates will be able to demonstrate skills sufficient to meet college standards. And the committee will have to develop a program to reduce its high dropout rate.

This initiative follows a move last year by business community leaders. They agreed that if the schools did a better job educating students (thereby turning out a more qualified work force), the business community would make a special effort to hire them. According to Frank Morris, president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, businesses so far have provided more than 1,200 summer jobs and 400 permanent jobs for the students.

Kevin A. McCluskey, president of the Boston School Committee, says these efforts send a signal to Boston schoolchildren. ''If they apply themselves,'' he says, ''they will move forward.''

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