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Class of 2028 will be the last to receive the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship

Downtown Pittsburgh skyline businesses bridge river allegheny county
Gene J. Puskar
This is the downtown Pittsburgh skyline and the Allegheny River on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Pittsburgh Public Schools students in the class of 2028 will be the last graduating class to receive Pittsburgh Promise scholarships.

Executive director Saleem Ghubril sent a letter to parents in the district this week framed as an “important reminder” that the organization would not offer Promise scholarships post-2028.

“Our Board of Directors and staff are thoroughly, strategically, and compassionately working to craft The Pittsburgh Promise’s post-2028 role and work,” Ghubril wrote.

Officials noted in the letter that they had begun announcing this in 2015 “when we had the data needed to refine the model of The Promise scholarship.”

Ghubril told WESA in an email Thursday that conversations with funders and scholarship data had confirmed the organization’s 2015 conclusions.

“By the time 2015 arrived, we had served eight classes of graduates, had a better grasp of the scholarship utilization rate, and had access to performance data which did not exist in earlier years,” he said. “The class of 2028 was in kindergarten then, and they will be our 21st class and last class of Promise Scholars.”

The organization’s post-2028 future remains unclear

While the Class of 2028 will be the last to receive the Promise scholarship, the organization will continue to operate, though how it will do so remains unclear.

Ghubril said the organization’s board and staff have been engaged in planning that future, and as it does so will continue to operate its post-secondary coaching programs for high school students at Carrick, Perry and Milliones 6-12, also known as University Preparatory School or UPrep.

“In the meantime, we will continue our outreach work through Promise Coaches, expand it where necessary, and we will work towards public policy solutions that make higher education more accessible in Pennsylvania,” he said.

While the rising cost of tuition is an ongoing challenge for Pittsburgh Promise students and nationwide, Ghubril added it did not directly impact the organization’s decision-making regarding its scholarship longevity.

As Ghubril noted, the organization has long been clear about its aim to provide scholarships through 2028, though he had previously left the door open for future scholarships.

When UPMC donated $10 million to the Promise earlier this year — in addition to its $100 million challenge grant that launched the Promise in 2007 — Ghubril told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the organization was unsure of its future after the money to fund scholarships through the class of 2028 ran out.

Much of that is due to the organization’s dependence on private-sector funding. The Promise has continued to see gaps in what those entities can provide: according to its website, the organization must still raise $11 million to meet its $265 million goal — the number needed to fund scholarships through the class of 2028.

The likelihood of raising millions more dollars year to year was low, Ghubril told reporters in April.

The Promise repeatedly tried to delay how that would impact its students by adjusting its scholarship amount and the accepted uses. In 2015, the organization lowered its commitment from $10,000 to $7,500 a year, and removed room, board and books from its list of eligible uses.

That, however, hurt low-income recipients, thus leading the Promise to bring back room and board in exchange for reducing the scholarship amount further, this time to $5,000 a year or $20,000 over four years.

More than $170 million in scholarships have been committed to 11,432 graduates since its inception in 2008. According to a racial breakdown of its scholars, Black students have received about 41% of all funds.

Class of 2028 students who meet the eligibility criteria will be eligible for up to $5,000 per year to be used within five years at a post-secondary institution in Pennsylvania. To receive the full Promise scholarship, students must be a resident of Pittsburgh and graduate from a PPS high school or charter with a GPA of 2.5 or higher.

Students with lower GPAs are eligible for scholarships at the Community College of Allegheny County and become eligible for the full Promise scholarship after one year.

Page 1 of Pittsburgh Promise Class of 2028 letter
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Patrick Doyle (WESA) • View document or read text

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.