Celebrating the work of its first four-year graduates, the Pittsburgh Promise released its annual report that highlighted increased graduation rates in city schools and greater college retention rates for Promise scholars.

The Promise report, released Sept. 27 at sponsor American Eagle Outfitters’ offices on the South Side, shows the program is succeeding on all fronts, but most importantly, said Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril, the students are succeeding.


The high school completion rate for Pittsburgh Public Schools has risen from 63 percent to 71 percent in the four years since the Promise started, he said.

“The trend is up every year,” he said. “But as good as it is, it’s not good enough.”

Ghubril said, though they’d like to go higher, the Promise is aiming for an 85 percent graduation rate. But along with higher graduation rates, Pittsburgh schools are seeing an increase in students eligible for the Promise program, and an increase in minority students receiving promise grants.

Though the highest percentages of Promise recipients continue to be White females and Black females, the number of Black males has increased every year, from just over 13 percent in the first year to more than 18 percent.

Looking at data from required college student aid applications, more than 42 percent of Promise recipients come from families that would make no financial contribution, meaning they come from low-income families.

“The growth in scholarships is among our minority students,” said Ghubril. “We are doing the right thing for the people most in need.”

And according to data analyzed by the Evaluation Learning Group at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, Promise scholars are staying in college at a higher rate than their counterparts.

Researcher Jenifer Iriti noted that based on data published by American College Testing, at every type of institution, Promise scholars met or exceeded national retention rates. Overall, 76 percent of first-year Promise scholars returned the second year, compared with 67 percent of non-Promise peers.

And of those who complete their college careers, many are returning to Pittsburgh to work, thereby giving back to the city, community and sponsors who helped them.

Though many Promise graduates, like 2012 Allegheny College graduate Travis Wilkins, were working and could not attend—Wilkins is an account analyst with BYN Mellon—some could. One, Vanessa Thompson, a Westinghouse and Chatham University graduate, accompanied her boss Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who helped launch the Promise by helping arrange a $100 million challenge grant from UPMC.

“Saleem actually told me about this position while I was still at Chatham,” she said. “The Promise has been a great help to me, and I think what I’ve done has inspired my two younger sisters. They are both working to qualify for the Promise. I’m just looking to do anything to give back and to help Pittsburgh become a better place.”

In an effort to broaden its reach, the Promise unveiled two new initiatives. The first is called the Executive Scholars program, and matches select Pittsburgh Public School students, who have a minimum 3.5 GPA and relevant field of study with the Promise’ largest sponsors, UPMC, Highmark, Giant Eagle, PNC and BYN Mellon.

The second initiative is an outreach effort designed to attract and welcome Latinos to the city. Its partners include the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Vibrant Pittsburgh, and leaders in the corporate, nonprofit, philanthropic and education sectors.

“Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority in the country, but are few in number here in Pittsburgh,” said Vibrant Pittsburgh CEO Melanie Harrington. “It is time for us to right that ship.”

Ghubril added that he has another idea he’s trying to coordinate with city Realtors; a sign for any for-sale property that says, “This house comes with a $40,000 college scholarship.”

“This is our purpose,” he said. “What we do on a daily basis with a handful of kids matters to all of us.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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