Urban College of Boston

Opportunity and Empowerment

In a city crowded with academic institutions, Urban College of Boston (UCB) may be the most amazing college you’ve never heard of. Despite a fairly low profile, its unique focus and 25-year history of success make it a standout.   It’s the only college ever to be established by an anti-poverty program, Action for Boston Community Development. UCB’s mission is simple and powerful: supporting racially and ethnically diverse students in overcoming economic, social, and language barriers to higher education.  Many of these students come from communities facing substantial inequities in housing, schooling, healthcare, and employment opportunities.  To help overcome those challenges, UCB meets students where they are. Over 80 percent of the 1,400 enrollees receive financial aid.  Classes are offered in Spanish Mandarin, and – soon – Haitian Creole, as well as English, easing the transition to college-level work for students who are immigrants. The academic calendar and class scheduling, tied to Boston Public Schools’ calendar, is aimed at helping students (91 percent women; average age 38) who are also juggling jobs and school-age children. Its campus – the second floor of the China Trade Center building in the heart of downtown—is reachable via public transportation from nearly any neighborhood in the city. By attending to its students’ needs in the context of life circumstances, UCB’s influence extends to families, employers, and entire communities. It’s the reason that the college’s admissions marketing is largely word of mouth.

Expanding UCB’s Reach

UCB offers Associate of Arts (AA) degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Services Administration, and General Studies, plus related professional certificates and continuing education credits. Focused on these three specialties, the curriculum provides depth and flexibility, as well as a solid base for graduates to pursue further education. But it’s the Early Childhood Education program, which educates early childhood teachers and providers, that has the greatest potential to impact the lives of children, families, and neighborhoods. Approximately 85% of students enrolled at UCB are either already working or aspire to work in the field of early childhood education. With recent support from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Collaboration for Community Health, this program has expanded to include a certificate in Children’s Health Care, Safety, and Nutrition. This college certificate can stand alone, or be incorporated into an associate degree. In addition, the three-year grant helps fund a professional conference on child health for those beyond the College who are working in early childhood education. “Clearly, Boston Children’s Hospital’s Collaboration for Community Health aims to improve pediatric health in underserved communities,” says Michael Taylor, UCB’s president. “With our new course offerings, we couldn’t be more in tune with that mission.”

It’s never too early to introduce children to healthy habits. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 20 percent of US children are overweight or obese—and those from low-income households and specific racial and ethnic groups face a disproportionately higher risk. Since more than 60 percent of three-to-five-year-olds are in a weekly non-parental care arrangement, the influence of a teacher or care provider can be critical. UCB can help early childhood educators in Boston lay the foundation for long-term well-being, regardless of a child’s socioeconomic status or type of pre-school, agency program, or childcare center. Like community health workers, UCB students and graduates working as early childhood educators are in ideal positions to spread child health knowledge to parents and peers as well as children.

In addition to general requirements such as College Writing and Health and Life Fitness courses, the Children’s Health Care, Safety, and Nutrition certificate emphasizes both theory and practice. Students add to their knowledge of Child Growth and Development; gain viable skills and an understanding of allergies in Cooking for and with Children; and remember the joy of youthful motion and the importance of stress reduction in Movement and Exercise with Children. Equipped with a deeper understanding of early childhood health, UCB students can bring positive changes to the classrooms in which they work. 

Some students are discovering how to apply what they’re learning in nutrition, fitness, and developmental growth not just to their jobs, but to their own children’s lives.  They’re observing first-hand how positive health education leads to healthier kids, thriving families, and more vibrant communities. 

“When I started here, I was living in a homeless shelter with my one-month-old baby. But that never stopped me from working to secure my future for myself and my child,” said a graduating student at Urban College of Boston’s commencement ceremony last May. “Thanks to support from Urban College,   I am proud to be earning my associate degree today.”