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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,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “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: 

  1. 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.) 
  2. Be a resident of Philadelphia for at least 12 months. 
  3. Complete the annual free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) and document an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) below $15,000. 
  4. 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. 

Mayor Kenney added, “Octavius Catto was a renaissance man; he was an abolitionist, activist, athlete, scholar, and educator. 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

Area leaders and prominent CCP alumni shared their support of the Octavius Catto Scholarship program: 

Jeremiah White, Chair of CCP Board of Trustees: 

“Today, the Community College of Philadelphia’s role in the economic and civic growth of the City of Philadelphia has been greatly enhanced. The investment by the Kenney Administration in the Catto Scholarship Initiative brings substantial support to new students entering CCP and a more supportive pathway to four-year educational institutions and the workforce. As the City’s only public college, this investment fulfills the promise of open access to many more students and we thank the Administration for its commitment to Philadelphia’s future.” 

Superintendent Dr. William Hite, School District of Philadelphia:  

“Mayor Kenney’s continued investments in education demonstrate his ongoing commitment to our students and the future of our city. The Catto Scholarship will continue the Pre-K to College continuum that Philadelphia students deserve. The District has been proud to partner with CCP on dual enrollment programs. The administration’s pledge to provide over $700,000 in new funding for dual enrollment and summer bridge programs will ensure that Catto Scholars are poised for success in college and beyond.”

Leonard Smith, a relative of Octavius Catto, on behalf of the Catto family:

“The Catto family was elated to learn of the Octavius Catto Scholarship. The City is doing incredible work for Philadelphians’ at-large, and its African Americans, and we’re honored that Mayor Kenney continues to carry on the legacy of Octavius V. Catto in many meaningful ways.” 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf:

“Every Pennsylvanian and every Philadelphian deserves an opportunity to succeed. But, when students graduate burdened under a heavy debt load, reaching goals, such as purchasing a house, buying a car and starting a family, becomes difficult. Programs like this will increase opportunities for Philadelphians while helping build a strong, talented workforce in southeast Pennsylvania – and it will allow graduates to reinvest their salaries into the local economies instead of loan repayments.”

Pedro A. Rivera, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education

“Quality, affordable postsecondary education for all Pennsylvanians is essential to the economic outlook of the Commonwealth. The investment by the Kenney Administration is a critical investment, not only for Philadelphia but for the state of Pennsylvania. By combining last-dollar tuition with targeted supports, significantly more Community College of Philadelphia students will graduate ready to take advantage of Governor Wolf’s postsecondary initiatives, including the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program proposed in the Governor’s Budget Address. This work is vital to Pennsylvania’s goal of having 60% of residents earn a postsecondary degree or industry-recognized credential by 2025.”

Congressman Dwight Evans, U.S. Representative, CCP Alumnus:  

“As a proud alumnus of Community College of Philadelphia, the Octavius Catto Scholarship program announced by Mayor Kenney gives me great joy and hope for the future of Philadelphia. CCP is our region’s predominant gateway to a prosperous future for Philadelphia high school graduates and other adults who return to the classroom to advance their careers. The program not only makes CCP tuition-free for first-time, full time students, it also provides significant wraparound supports to remove barriers that keep many of our students from completing their degree program. I know firsthand the power of a community college education, and I commend the Kenney Administration and CCP for developing such a thoughtful program that’s sure to have a tremendous impact on our city.” 

Dr. Pedro Regalado, Historian and Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, and CCP Alumnus 

“Community colleges are an increasingly vital part of our country’s education landscape, especially since more students attend them than any other type of higher education institution. In addition to offering affordable pathways toward earning higher degrees, community colleges reach a far more diverse group of students, a great percentage of them African American and Latinx, than most four-year colleges and universities. Moreover, their graduates are often more confident about their majors, and most importantly, they have a firm grasp of the transformative value of education on their families and respective communities. I know this firsthand. This is why local governments should enhance access to community colleges through increased funding, while four-year colleges and universities should boost their efforts to create stronger transition programs and hands-on advising.”

Joyce Wilkerson, President, Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia: “I’m excited that our city is joining other cities and states in this growing movement around college access. Philadelphia’s students deserve every opportunity to reach their potential and achieve their career goals. The Catto Scholarship will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on our high school graduates and their families.”

Kathleen M. Shaw, Executive Director, Research for Action: 

“Mayor Kenney’s investment in the Community College of Philadelphia reflects comprehensive evidence-based strategies that both provide a pathway into college and also get students across the finish line,” said Kate Shaw, Executive Director of Philadelphia-based Research for Action (RFA). “RFA’s analysis of a range of promise scholarship models across the country suggests that a combination of financial and student wraparound supports is essential to truly moving the needle on postsecondary attainment. In addition, the focus on addressing students’ basic needs is critical to increasing the success of low-income individuals. I look forward to seeing the impact this initiative will have in the City of Philadelphia.”

Daniel J. Hilferty, CEO, Independence Blue Cross; Chair, Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia:

“A postsecondary education can quite literally change a person’s life so I am very excited about the City’s new investment in Community College of Philadelphia (CCP). Countless workers in our city’s thriving healthcare sector start their career by earning their credential or degree at CCP. The Catto Scholarship will make this possible for thousands more Philadelphians and by extension help grow our regional economy.”

Richard M. Englert, President of Temple University

“I commend Mayor Kenney for this historic investment in higher education. Helping more Philadelphians successfully complete their programs at Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) will set them up for success in the next stage of their education or career. The wraparound supports provided through the Octavius Catto Scholarship program will eliminate many of the common barriers that have unfairly kept hardworking students from completing their program of study. We are extremely proud that the majority of CCP Associate Degree graduates continue on to become Temple Owls, and I look forward to partnership with the City and CCP to ensure long term success of this incredible initiative.”   

Deborah Diamond, PhD, President, Campus Philly 

“Access to community college is more important than ever for Philadelphians to succeed in 21st century jobs. But there’s a lot more to access than tuition. Today, students need coaching for job success, support to get to and from internships and classes, and connections to mentors and employers to build professional networks. This administration’s increased investment in student success at Community College of Philadelphia will mean more students completing college and succeeding on the job market after they graduate.”

Sara Goldrick Rab, PhD., Founding Director, Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice 

“Our [The Hope Center] research, surveying students at 247 community colleges since 2015, has shown that tuition is only part of the cost of college. The real cost of college must include the student’s basic needs. The City’s investment in addressing students’ basic needs at Community College of Philadelphia means that we are making the jobs of faculty easier. Every teacher understands how difficult it is to support student success when they haven’t eaten.”

Dr. Karen A. Stout, President and CEO, Achieving the Dream, Inc., President Emerita, Montgomery County Community College

“Access to and completion of a post secondary degree or credential of labor market value is essential to strengthening the civic fabric and economic vitality of our communities. College Promise programs allow students to complete degrees and certificates without the burden of unmanageable debt. In our work with more than 270 colleges across the country, we have seen how Promise programs help colleges accelerate their student success efforts. Community College of Philadelphia, one of ATD’s Leader Colleges, has been active in the student success movement since joining our Network in 2006. This new investment from the City of Philadelphia will build on their student success work, enabling them to accelerate their work around holistic student support redesign to advance their retention and completion goals.” 

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