Pittsburgh Promise's annual report boasts of good retention rate

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More students are graduating from city high schools, and early data indicate recipients of the Pittsburgh Promise are persevering in college, speakers said Thursday during an annual celebration of the scholarship program.

Officials also announced a new initiative to attract Hispanic immigrants to the city and unveiled a sign that real-estate agents can use to let prospective buyers know that city residency includes a scholarship opportunity.

The Promise, which offers individual scholarships of up to $40,000 for graduates of city high schools and certain charter schools, has assisted 3,280 students who graduated from 2008 to 2011. The number of 2012 graduates who received scholarships has not yet been calculated.

The Promise's annual report to the community was held at the South Side offices of American Eagle Outfitters and hosted by Robert Hanson, company CEO.

While much of the news about the Pittsburgh Public Schools this year focused on teacher layoffs and school closings, Saleem Ghubril, the Promise's executive director, delivered an encouraging message: the district's graduation rate increased from 63 percent in 2007 to 71 percent in 2012.

But he said, "As good as that is, it's not good. It's not good enough."

The Promise estimated the graduation rate by dividing the number of eighth-graders in a class by the number who graduated five years later; there are other methods of estimating graduation numbers.

Especially troubling, Mr. Ghubril said, is the disparity in graduation rates from one school to another.

The Promise did not take credit for the improving graduation rate, but the program is an important part of the school district's broader academic-improvement agenda.

Jennifer Iriti, research associate and co-director the Evaluation for Learning Group at the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center, said the Promise should be the center of an "ecosystem" of government and civic groups working to prepare high school students for college and beyond.

Leaders already are working toward that goal. For example, the Promise recently announced its Executive Scholars Program, which gives high-achieving students the opportunity to explore career options and build contacts at BNY Mellon, Giant Eagle, Highmark, PNC or University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Promise scholarships largely are funded by a $100 million matching grant from UPMC. The money may be used for tuition, fees, room, board and books at any accredited post-secondary school in the state.

The Promise monitors scholarship recipients' progress in college and brought in Ms. Iriti's group to study retention rates.

Researchers found that 76 percent of 2008 and 2009 Promise recipients returned for their second year of college. That's higher than the 66 percent retention rate of students in an American College Testing sample from the same years, Ms. Iriti said.

The Promise announced a new initiative to attract Hispanic immigrants to the city, using scholarships as a marketing tool. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the nation, but they're few in number here, Melanie Harrington, CEO of the nonprofit group Vibrant Pittsburgh, said.

"It is time for us to right that ship," she said.

Rectangular signs advertising the Promise will be given to city real-estate agents, who can hang them beneath the for-sale signs on homes. Mr. Ghubril said prospective home-buyers should know about the scholarship opportunity.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published September 28, 2012 4:00 AM


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