The Pittsburgh school district has secured a $100 million commitment to a fund that helps the city’s high school graduates afford college.
Officials from the school district and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center announced on Dec. 5 that the medical center will give $10 million to the Pittsburgh Promise fund. The medical center will provide $2 for every $3 the district raises until the medical center’s contribution reaches $90 million.
The announcement represents a huge step for the fund, which had received only one contribution in the year since it opened: $10,000 from the local teachers’ union.
Superintendent Mark Roosevelt said he is optimistic that the new pledge and its matching mechanism will enable the district to reach its goal of amassing $250 million in the fund over 10 years and creating an endowment.
Mr. Roosevelt declined to say whether he has already lined up additional pledges that will trigger the medical center’s matching dollars. But he said he has done “a lot of work communicating with other folks, and I’m very optimistic. We will get this done.”
The superintendent teamed up with Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl last year to establish the fund as a way to keep families in Pittsburgh and to improve the future prospects of its young people. Enrollment in the city schools has declined from 35,000 in 2002 to 28,000 this year.
Local foundations withdrew their support from the schools five years ago, citing fiscal and leadership problems. (“Freeze on Grants Roils Pittsburgh District,” Aug. 7, 2002.)
But they reinstated their backing with a new cooperative fund to support Mr. Roosevelt’s initiatives. When he took the helm two years ago, he began focusing on revitalizing the district’s financial and academic picture by closing 22 schools, kicking off a major high school improvement campaign, and installing a new curriculum in elementary and middle schools.
“It’s absolutely necessary for Pittsburgh to have this kind of program,” he said in an interview.
Standards to Meet
This year’s 2,000 graduating seniors qualify for an annual scholarship of up to $5,000 to any public college or university in Pennsylvania, and some private schools in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County, if they have attended city schools for the last four years and have at least a 2.0 grade point average in high school.
Next year, the GPA requirement will be raised to 2.5, and graduates must have an 85 percent attendance rate to qualify. Graduates of the class of 2010 will have to have 90 percent attendance to qualify. Pennsylvania plans to introduce a required high school exit exam in the next few years, and when it does, students who pass it will qualify for scholarships of up to $10,000.
The Pittsburgh Promise is modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, which pays up to 100 percent of tuition and fees for that city’s high school graduates to attend public colleges or universities in Michigan. The 2-year-old fund has paid about $3 million to about 700 students so far, said Bob Jorth, its executive administrator.
The Kalamazoo program has no high school GPA requirement, but students who use it must maintain a 2.0 GPA in college to hold onto their scholarships. Pittsburgh Promise scholarship recipients must do likewise.
Mr. Roosevelt said the secondary school GPA and attendance requirements in Pittsburgh’s program are intended to ensure that city students can afford to attend college, but are academically prepared to succeed there as well.