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Shortly after a new class of Pittsburgh Promise scholars began their college careers in the fall of 2016, it became alarmingly apparent that even those who qualified for the maximum Promise grant were having trouble paying for things like books, and room and board.

It was enough of a problem that Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril and his staff had to scramble to address it, and with the help of some very generous benefactors, they did. But it was, he said, just a band aid. On Jan. 29, the Promise announced changes that will permanently remedy that situation and provide more financial aid to the program’s neediest grant recipients.

“Until now, we haven’t been able to answer a basic question parents had—How much will my kid get? Now we can tell them,” he said. “We have eliminated the sliding scale. So now we can say, you’ll get $5,000 a year, unless you need less.”

Prior to this change, the maximum award was $7,500 per year—reduced in 2015 from a high of $10,000. But that was only available to students who’d been in Pittsburgh Public Schools since Kindergarten. With that sliding scale eliminated, now any student who has attended since ninth grade is eligible for the $5,000 maximum.

Additionally, the Promise board of directors approved adding room and board, and books back into the scholarship equation, and reinstating the minimum $1,000 scholarship. All the changes go into effect for the Class of 2018.

“That means kids who have everything else covered by federal funds will still get $1,000 from the Promise,” Ghubril told the New Pittsburgh Courier, Jan. 29, after the announcement was made public. “Even though we’re reducing the maximum, we’re spending more money. Before, the majority were getting well below the maximum. It was confusing, made it harder to plan. The message is clearer—we’re getting funds into the hands of more kids.”

Ghubril said the change will result in about 14 percent more money going to the lowest income Promise scholars. Pittsburgh Public Schools’ student body is about 55 percent African American, but it is also 80 percent low-income.

The changes also coincide with the launch of the Promise Partners initiative, where partner in-state schools also award Promise scholars an additional $2,000. All the changes, Ghubril said, will keep the program sustainable.

“We began with a $100 million award from UPMC over 10 years, which we had to match. As of December, we’d raised $99.6 million. So, we didn’t miss by much,” he said. “We are committed to funding kids through 2028 at a minimum, which really means 2032 when they graduate. These changes make things a bit more expensive. So, if you do the math, $65 million more is needed. The bottom line is we know it will help 80 percent of the kids—and that’s a good thing.”


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