5:46 PM / Monday September 26, 2022

6 Mar 2020

Mayor Kenney proposes initiative to make Community College of Philadelphia tuition-free for full-time students

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March 6, 2020 Category: Local Posted by:

The Octavius Catto Scholarship aims to increase college degree completion for thousands of local, full-time students

PHILADELPHIA — During his annual budget address to Philadelphia City Council, Mayor Kenney unveiled a new initiative to make Community College of Philadelphia tuition-free for full-time students. 

The Octavius Catto Scholarship will provide the transformative power of education to an estimated 6,500 students over the next five years. The initiative is multifaceted, combining a “last-dollar” funding model that covers the outstanding tuition balance after all other federal and state scholarships and grants, along with wraparound support services to bolster student success. 

Understanding that many Philadelphians, especially those living in poverty, face significant obstacles to degree completion, the Catto Scholarship will provide $1,500 per semester to full-time students to offset costs of food ($600), books ($500), and transit ($400). In addition, new and dedicated faculty and staff, including career coaches and advisors, will connect students to existing resources such as housing, childcare, and public benefits, to help them stay on track to graduation and achieve their postsecondary goals. 

“Building off our historic investments in quality pre-K and the School District of Philadelphia over the last four years, the time has come to strengthen the pre-K to College continuum in our city,”  Kenney said. “A postsecondary degree or credential is essential for the good-paying jobs of today and tomorrow, yet the rising cost of higher education and the student debt crisis have made it virtually unattainable for far too many of our students, especially students of color. The Catto Scholarship will change these circumstances, putting Catto Scholars on a path to prosperity. At the same time, it will strengthen our economy since increasing two- and four-year college degree attainment is a major driver of inclusive, economic growth.” 

To fund the initiative, the mayor proposed $10.4 million in Fiscal Year 2021, and $63.2 million over the City’s Five Year Plan. If approved by Philadelphia City Council, the program would begin enrolling Catto Scholars in the Fall of 2020. 

“At Community College of Philadelphia, our students know that a certificate or associate degree can change the course of their lives and have a seismic effect on their lifetime earnings,” said Community College of Philadelphia President Donald Guy Generals. “We are thrilled that Mayor Kenney is proposing to invest in the city’s college, as the best partner to make the transformative power of education available to even more Philadelphians.”

To be eligible for the program, an applicant must: 


•  Be a first-time or a returning full-time student who graduated from a high school in Philadelphia. (This includes Philadelphia public, private, homeschool, alternative, and PA cyber schools, as well as individuals who earned the Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma by passing the GED or HiSET exam.) 

•  Be a resident of Philadelphia for at least 12 months. 

•  Complete the annual free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) and document an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) below $15,000. 

•  Meet college readiness requirements assessed at the time of their placement exams with no more than one level below college-ready in reading, writing, and math.

To remain eligible, students must maintain Philadelphia residency, full-time enrollment (at least 12 credits per semester), a 2.0 Grade Point Average (GPA) after the first year in the program and meet milestones of credit attainment each of the three years for which they are eligible for the scholarship. 

Returning full-time students are eligible for last-dollar tuition assistance, provided that they meet the same residency, high school, and EFC requirements and enroll for the scholarship by summer 2021. They are also required to have achieved at least a 2.0 GPA and to have no more than 42 credits at the time of being determined eligible for the scholarship. Undocumented students are also eligible to apply. CCP will work with the students to determine income eligibility. 

“Octavius Catto was a renaissance man; he was an abolitionist, activist, athlete, scholar, and educator,” Kenney added. “Catto exemplifies what it means to be a leader and public servant. He fought for our city’s African American community who were subjugated to centuries of mistreatment and racism, and he worked to break down barriers through the incredible power of education. To me, Catto represents all of the qualities that we want to see in our scholars. It’s my hope that naming this transformative new scholarship in his honor will inspire our city’s future leaders to follow in his footsteps and carry on the incredible legacy he left behind.” 

Another element of the initiative is expanding opportunities for dual enrollment for School District of Philadelphia students. Dual enrollment is a proven strategy for increasing access to higher education, as well as postsecondary education degree attainment. 

The City’s Catto Scholarship investment includes $500,000 annually to expand opportunities for dual enrollment for Philadelphia high school students. This investment will support at least 200 dual enrollment slots that will be targeted to District schools, particularly comprehensive neighborhood schools. These slots are in addition to the District’s existing dual enrollment slots, which serve over 700 Philadelphia high school students in the College’s Advance at College program.

In addition to the $63.2 million investment in the Catto Scholarship, the Five Year Plan also includes $4 million per year in recurring new operating dollars, along with a one-time $4 million capital investment in FY21. These new funds are on top of the City’s existing recurring annual contribution of $36.1 million, bringing the City’s overall investment in CCP to $54 million in FY21 and $270 million over the next five years. (This is a 50 percent increase over FY20 spending levels in FY21.) 

The City and CCP have established the following goals for the initiative: 

•  Increase three-year completion (graduation) rate to 25 percent by 2025

•  Increase retention rate from one term to another by 15 percentage points over current level

•  Increase enrollment in scholarship 10 percent higher than current number of eligible incoming Fall semester students by 2025

•  Close the gap in completion time for students of color by applying a racial and gender equity lens to ensure that all groups are performing at the highest level.

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