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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023

Cambridge Mayor Siddiqui Previews Plans for Free College Program

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui talks about her educational goals in her office in Cambridge City Hall.
Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui talks about her educational goals in her office in Cambridge City Hall. By Claire Yuan
By Sally E. Edwards and Ayumi Nagatomi, Crimson Staff Writers

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui is developing the “Cambridge Promise” program, which would fund free community college for all Cambridge residents, she said in an interview Thursday.

While the proposal remains under development, Siddiqui said she hopes the city can launch a pilot program in the near future, adding that college access is a “priority.”

“A lot of our students are unable to afford college, right, and so that’s been an issue that’s come up,” Siddiqui said. “What do we do in that respect?”

Siddiqui said she hopes the program will address the “key issue” of college affordability and will “make a difference for students.” She added that she hopes Harvard will invest in the Cambridge Promise program to continue the University’s involvement in local public education.

“I think they are such a big player in our city, and they shape the city in so, so many ways,” Siddiqui said. “So inherently, I think it’s important that they get involved.”

Siddiqui — a graduate of Cambridge Public Schools and current chair of the district’s School Committee — said that while Cambridge is a well-resourced public school district that spends “a lot of money per pupil,” she is determined to reduce the “persistent” opportunity gaps.

“We’re a diverse community with a strong commitment to investing in our public school system,” she said. “We have a lot of opportunity for growth and how we improve outcomes, especially for students of color — and that’s something that is important to me.”

To close these gaps, Siddiqui said she has prioritized the development and implementation of universal pre-K programs within CPS. Earlier this week, the city shared plans to fund preschool access for all four-year-olds in the district beginning in the 2024-2025 school year.

“Access to early childhood education really can set up a framework for future success,” Siddiqui said. “We’re seeing right now, in our data, really the disparities in education when it comes to race and your background, whether you’re low-income or not.”

Beyond early childhood education, Siddiqui said she also aims to provide equitable paths to higher education.

Siddiqui has worked with the district on the Early College Program — a Massachusetts state-designated Early College Initiative program in partnership with Lesley University — to allow Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students to receive up to two years of college credits for free.

“We’ve heard feedback from our students that ‘Wow, I’m going to a college classroom and getting that experience,’” Siddiqui said. “I’m just glad we’re able to help our students with some of that.”

Siddiqui said her time as a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin “shaped” who she is today.

During her time in high school, Siddiqui co-founded The Cambridge Youth Council — a group committed to improving the lives of youth through “social justice, education, and community building” that remains active 20 years later.

“From the Cambridge school system, I really gained that skill set in the beginning of advocacy and wanting to help people,” she said.

Siddiqui said her early advocacy experiences prompted her to work with CPS students.

“I love working with the students, and I think they really help draft great policy,” she said.

“My role is to hear your voices,” Siddiqui added.

Correction: February 19, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Early College Program at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School is in its pilot stage. In fact, the program was piloted in January 2022 and received state designation in April.

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sallyedwards04.

—Staff writer Ayumi Nagatomi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ayumi_nagatomi.

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