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The Globe has launched a two-year initiative called The Great Divide to explore the deep inequalities in our public education system, examining both the challenges and possible solutions to creating equal opportunity for all students. This newsletter will update you on our investigative findings, with links to stories and other relevant information. If you know of anyone interested in this subject, tell them they can sign up for this newsletter here.
By Sarah Carr, Globe Staff

Vanessa Atocha had the academic preparation, work ethic, and ambition to thrive in college. But she lacked the money to pay for it, and trusted mentors to guide her.

No one in Atocha’s extended family had even attempted college. Her mother spoke little English and worked long hours at two housekeeping jobs. And her counselors at Newton North High School, where she graduated in 2010, offered little practical help.

Vanessa Atocha standing in front of her high school alma mater, Newton North. 
“They kept saying, ‘Go on Google, go on Google,’” Atocha told me. “I never applied to any [college] scholarships because it was all so overwhelming. I kept wondering, ‘Is this a real scholarship? Or is it click bait?’”

Atocha’s time at Pennsylvania State University did not end well. Unable to pay all her bills, the teenager dropped out in the middle of her sophomore year. Eight years later, she has about $15,000 in college debt left — but no degree.

Her story is captured in an unprecedented new data set that shows the six-year college completion rate for every Massachusetts high school graduating class of 2010.

Among the most startling findings: Low-income students who graduated from several of the Boston's highest-performing suburban school districts had no better chance of finishing college than if they had gone to high school in Boston.

It is a story of pervasive, and devastating, inequity.

Read the full article.
The story elicited dozens of responses, including the following.
As a former METCO [a voluntary desegregation program that sends Boston students to suburban school districts] kid, I very much understand what its like to feel like the conversation in your school around college doesn't address your own individual needs (my high school was Scituate, so much less emphasis on financial aid).
 
- Jason Johnson, director of communications at uAspire, a Boston nonprofit focused on college affordability
Most African-American and Latinx students in higher ed are in two-year institutions…This raises a larger question about whether we can get many community colleges to step up to their workforce development mission and acknowledge the reality that while 80 percent of students who enroll right out of high school say they want a four-year degree, only 16 percent attain one.
 
- Robert Schwartz, senior research fellow, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Come meet the Globe's education team
The Globe's education team, from left to right: Meghan Irons, Bianca Vazquez Toness, Jamie Vaznis, Malcolm Gay, and editor Sarah Carr.
Please join us at the Globe on Dec. 10 for an after-work event, where we will discuss these issues, and more, and introduce you to a new team dedicated to investigating education inequality in Boston and the state.
 
Guests will have the chance to hear directly from youth featured in recent stories on the reasons they stumbled in college — and how our K-12 schools can help. They will also get to meet members of the Globe’s expanded education team and share thoughts on what issues we should be prioritizing in coverage. We hope to see you there!
 
Learn more and RSVP here.
WHAT WE ARE READING
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The Valedictorians Project
Boston's top students from 2005 to 2007 set out to change the world. But then life happened.
ABOUT THE GREAT DIVIDE
The Great Divide builds on the findings of the Globe's Valedictorians Project in January, which revealed that even the best students in Boston public schools often struggle after high school. An editor and a team of four investigative reporters are examining public education in the region, with humanity and empathy, and with a goal of provoking public discussion and exploring what might be done to fix core issues of inequality, social mobility, and economic opportunity. Please send ideas and suggestions to: thegreatdivide@globe.com

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