An independent researcher's report showed that the METCO program has boosted college enrollment at four-year institutions among Boston high school students of color.

The research released Tuesday showed that METCO students — predominantly Black students who are bussed to schools in Boston's wealthy suburbs — were 17% more likely to attend college than their peers, and they finished college at a 6% higher rate.

"It’s very transformative outcomes in terms of college going, in terms of earnings," said Tufts University economics professor Elizabeth Setren, who led the study. "A lot of these effects are really driven by the 'first gen' college students, the kids whose parents did not go to college. They experience the most transformational gains from the METCO program."

The program, created in 1966 primarily as a way to give Black students better educational opportunities than they were receiving in Boston schools, now busses more than 3,000 city students to suburban schools in Greater Boston daily. This year, for the first time since 2018, the Massachusetts legislature did not expand METCO's funding, keeping it static and forcing the organization to put expansion plans on hold.

METCO CEO Milly Arbaje-Thomas hopes the research, six years in the making, shows how the program has helped close racial equity gaps and offers a path forward.

The "research is going to really help to define what we do next for METCO and how we serve our students best — and how our districts also can do better in serving students," she said.

The report found that half of all Black students in Boston apply to participate in METCO, which selects its students through a lottery.

Among the key findings:
— METCO increased students' attendance by 2-4 days
— SAT scores were higher than their city peers, although not high enough to gain admittance into the highest tier colleges
— Students aspired to attend four-year colleges in greater numbers
— Students were more likely to stay in state and be self employed. Their earnings at age 35 averaged $65,000 annually, higher than their non-METCO peers
— Student suspension rates were lower than their peers (although METCO students were suspended more often than their suburban peers)

Setren said METCO students were also more than 10% likelier to be placed in bottom tier math and English language arts classes at all levels, from kindergarten through high school. The students are also not likely to take Advanced Placement or AP courses.

"It's unclear exactly how to interpret this," Sefren said. "But I think this pattern is potentially worth looking into to see if we can have a better fit and more rigorous course assignments and access to AP course assignments."

The report analyzed data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The U.S. Institute of Education Sciences, The Spencer Foundation and The Russell Sage Foundation supported the work.