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Pittsburgh Promise Ensures Scholarships Through At Least 2028

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA
Kindergarten students from Phillips and Weil Elementary Schools greet visitors at the Hill House before the Pittsburgh Promise report to the community.

The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program is solvent until at least 2028, according to its seventh annual report to the community released Tuesday. Guests to the presentation at the Hill House were greeted by kindergarten students from Phillips and Weil elementary schools, donning shirts that read “I am the class of 2028” and giving out enthusiastic handshakes.

Promise leaders announced that so far, 6,146 students have received more than $72 million in post-secondary scholarships. This summer, the Promise announced it was reducing scholarships from $10,000 a year to $7,000 a year for four years. Executive Director Saleem Ghubril said this was in an effort to reach more students over a longer period of time.

“We can now tell the class of 2028 that when they finish high school, there will be a scholarship for them that will see them through four years through 2032. It doesn’t mean that the class of 2029 won’t be included, but right now our eyes are firmly fixed on the kids in our schools,” said Ghubril.

Effect on Graduation Rates

The report showed that graduation rates in Pittsburgh Public Schools have risen from 63 percent in 2007 (the year the Promise was introduced) to 74 percent in 2014.

Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Travis Wilkins is a 2008 graduate of Pittsburgh Allderdice High School. He was in the first class to receive Promise scholarships. He graduated from Allegheny College and now works at BNY Mellon.

Travis Wilkins graduated from Pittsburgh Allderdice High School in 2008; he was in the first graduating class eligible for the Promise. He said finding that out had a profound impact on him and his peers.

“Some of my friends didn’t have any desire, hadn’t really thought about going to college, but when this was announced, it at least put the thought in their head that they could go to college,” said Wilkins, “I think the idea of just igniting a little fire in someone, or giving someone a thought is powerful and that’s something the Promise was able to do.”

Wilkins graduated from Allegheny College and now works at BNY Mellon.

Demographics of Promise Scholars

One of the goals for the future of the Promise is to close a demographic gap that exists, according to Ghubril. He said the demographics of Promise scholars are diverse, but added there is room for improvement.

“Leading the pack are African-American and multi-racial females, our women of color have absolutely taken the lead on pursuing higher education through a Promise scholarship,” said Ghubril. “Right behind them are Caucasian girls and behind them Caucasian males and then African-American males and there’s a big gap between third and fourth place in that lineup.”

The report shows 23.07 percent of recipients are Caucasian male, compared to 16.97 percent which are African-American. In addition to narrowing or closing that gap, Ghubril said the Promise would also like to see more students become eligible and take advantage of the scholarship. 

Challenges to Eligibility

In order to be eligible for a Promise scholarship, students must graduate from a Pittsburgh high school or charter school, be enrolled in the district continuously since at least the start of 9th grade, hold at least a 2.5 grade point average and graduate with a  minimum attendance record of 90 percent.

Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Students from Phillips and Weil Elementary Schools made "thank you cards" for those attending the Pittsburgh Promise report to the community.

Ghubril said 30 percent of the district’s students don’t meet one or more of those requirements. He said getting them Promise ready would take a lot of work on their part, but that sometimes is not enough. He added that some students simply will not qualify for the scholarship.

“For many of them hunger is an issue, housing is an issue, violence in their community is an issue, access to health services is an issue, maybe the family needs legal services, and all of those things end up diminishing a kid’s likelihood or ability to succeed,” said Ghubril.

To that end, he recommended the coordination of delivery of a range of supportive educational, health, legal, and other community services to students and their families.

In an effort to try to raise eligibility for the Promise, he also recommends providing junior and senior classes the opportunity to take the SAT exam during the school day, rather than on a weekend and embedding courses for post-secondary preparation at all Pittsburgh Public high schools.

Funding the Future

The Heinz Endowments announced a new $6 million grant for the Promise, bringing their total contribution to $18 million. This leaves the Promises needing $68 million to reach its $250 million fundraising goal. Ghubril said fundraising efforts will continue.