Pittsburgh Promise to raise scholarships

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The message is simple. “Live in our city, attend our schools and we’ll send you to college with a $20,000 scholarship.”

That’s the motto for the Pittsburgh Promise, a program that offers scholarships to Pittsburgh Public School students who meet certain requirements. In two years, the stakes will be even higher when the amount of the scholarship is raised to $40,000.

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PROMISE TEAM—From left: Franco Harris, Saleem Ghubril, Sandra N. Danoff, Edie Shapira, Grant Oliphant, Anne Lewis, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Cindy Shapira, David Shapira and David J. Malone.

To date, 1,690 scholarships have been awarded with another 750 expected from the recent batch of graduates. Local leaders delivered this and more during a report to the community July 1 at the O’Reilly Theater.

“There are amazing stories about the impact of the Promise,” said former Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris.

One such story is that of Jahmiah Guillory, a Penn State Greater Allegheny student from Northview Heights, who went into his senior year at Oliver High School with a 1.75 grade point average. In order to be eligible for the Promise, he had to make straight As for the entire year to reach a GPA of 2.25. By the end of the semester, Guillory had reached his goal, graduating with a 2.28.

His story is a quintessential example of what the Promise can accomplish. Supporters hope it will not only help fix some of Pittsburgh’s underachieving schools, but help reverse the city’s population decline.

“In my lifetime we have seen almost half of our city’s population evaporate. While we have been losing people by the thousands, last year we only lost about 400,” said Saleem Ghubril, Pittsburgh Promise executive director. “Can the Pittsburgh Promise take the credit for that? No. But do we care who gets the credit?”

Ghubril highlighted some of the shortfalls in the PPS district such as the 67 percent graduation rate hovering below the state average of 78, and the achievement gap between Black and White students.

“The good news there is the (achievement) gap is narrowing,” said Ghubril. “We still have a lot of work to do in our high schools, but it appears the high school completion rate is beginning to inch up.”

Despite these improvements, gaps can also be found in the data for Promise recipients. African-American males receive approximately half the number of scholarships than every other demographic group and while the district is approximately 57 percent African-American, the percentage of Black Promise recipients is only 40 percent.

“Right now an excellent urban school system doesn’t exist anywhere in the country. That causes some to conclude that it can’t be done. The question is do we believe you can reverse the quality of urban education in America,” said Ghubril. “We think in Pittsburgh we are closer than any other city at trying to do that. Thankfully we have a group of leaders who are absolutely committed to doing it.”

The report also demonstrated how Promise students were faring in terms of retention rates at secondary institutions. Retention rates for Promise students at private and public two-year institutions are above both national and Pennsylvania averages and about even at four-year institutions.

According to a local study, Pittsburgh could gain $1.8 billion to the local community if the percentage of college educated residents is raised 1 percentage point.

“It was a bold idea for Pittsburgh. I believe it is showing the future of the city is bright. The numbers are there. They don’t lie,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. “Nothing excites me more than the day the first Promise recipient graduates and comes back to Pittsburgh to gain employment.”

Each year the bar has been raised for Promise recipients. This year, recipients had to maintain a 2.25 GPA and an 85 percent school attendance record. Next year the requirement will be a 2.5 GPA and a 90 percent attendance rate.

Over the past year the Promise has raised $11.3 million, a couple million short of their $15 million goal. For every $1.50 raised by the city, UPMC donates $1 to the Promise.

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