When Pittsburgh Promise executive director Saleem Ghubril told a cab driver last week what he does for a living, the driver said the scholarship program enabled his niece and nephew to go to college.
" 'It's the most important thing happening in the city of Pittsburgh,' " Mr. Ghubril quoted the cab driver as telling him.
Mr. Ghubril took that cab on a day he was preparing for the Pittsburgh Promise's annual report being released today at Google's Bakery Square offices in East Liberty.
The Promise also will use the occasion to announce another major gift to add to the $162.2 million raised so far.
The Promise, begun in 2008, offers scholarships of up to $40,000 to colleges and trade schools in Pennsylvania for graduates of Pittsburgh Public Schools and bricks-and-mortar charters within the district who meet certain requirements, including at least a 2.5 grade-point average and 90 percent attendance.
Mr. Ghubril said that counting the class of 2013, the Promise has provided scholarships worth nearly $40 million to about 4,600 students for postsecondary education.
So far, about 700 have graduated from two-year or four-year programs. "I am elated by the opportunity the Promise gives kids for whom this was only a dream," Mr. Ghubril said.
Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Linda Lane believes the Promise "is giving kids a different view of what they can be able to do."
She noted one kindergartner who was able to tell her quite clearly that she wanted to be a nurse, was going to work hard in school and was going to use the Pittsburgh Promise.
"She had the story nailed down," Ms. Lane said.
The requirements and possible amount of money have increased since the program began. The annual report includes analysis by the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh looking at 2008 through 2012.
Students have gone to more than 100 postsecondary schools, but the most popular choices are Community College of Allegheny County, University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University.
Of those who have received scholarships, 27 percent are black females, 15 percent black males, 28 percent white females, 23 percent white males and 5 percent other.
Many of them are low-income, with 39 percent of those from 2008 through 2012 having so much financial need that their estimated family contribution on the federal financial aid form is zero. Counting those with zero estimated family contribution, 81 percent are eligible for need-based aid.
Once in college, the students continue on for a second year at rates equal to or better than the national rates reported by ACT Inc.
At four-year private schools, the retention rate for Promise recipients is 80 percent; four-year public schools, 81 percent; two-year private schools 65 percent; and two-year public, 61 percent.
The report also looks at how students are doing in high school.
About half of the recipients have grade point averages in high school of 3.0 or better.
The percentage of students who do well enough to be "Promise eligible" varies widely by high school.
In 2012 at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, 99 percent of the graduates were Promise eligible. The percentage was 83 percent at Allderdice High and Obama 6-12.
The smallest percentages were at Westinghouse 6-12, where 52 percent were Promise eligible, and Milliones 6-12, also known as University Prep, where 51 percent were eligible.
Mr. Ghubril also noted that the steep enrollment decline in Pittsburgh largely has leveled off with smaller declines since the program began.
Mr. Ghubril can't say for sure whether the Promise is responsible for the enrollment trend, but he said, "The Promise impacts the lives of kids positively, impacts the quality of our public school system positively and introduces new energy and diversity into our region's workforce."
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.