The Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program has assembled a team of heavyweights to coax $50 million over 10 years from the area's movers and shakers.
David and Nancy Malone, David and Cynthia Shapira and Anne V. Lewis will work from a list of about 300 prospective donors, mostly business leaders and entrepreneurs.
They will make telephone solicitations, set the hook at tete-a-tetes and host social events, courting a segment of society whose support is important if the Promise is to leverage a $90 million, nine-year matching grant from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
The Malones, the Shapiras and Ms. Lewis are among the region's business elite, and they have regular access to other people of means. Mr. Malone is president and CEO of Gateway Financial, a Downtown firm that provides insurance services to the wealthy. Mr. Shapira is chairman, president and CEO of Giant Eagle. Ms. Lewis is an owner of Oxford Development Co., Downtown.
Officially, the five will co-chair the Promise's "Committee of 100." The term refers to the first 100 people who not only make significant gifts but persuade friends to give as well.
They will seek gifts of $10,000 and above, said Saleem Ghubril, the Promise's executive director.
The group said it accepted the responsibility because of what the Promise portends for Pittsburgh, the region and city school students, many of them poor and otherwise disadvantaged.
"These kids deserve a shot," said Mr. Malone, who has followed the Pittsburgh Public Schools' improvement efforts since Superintendent Mark Roosevelt arrived about four years ago and has served on the district's task force on high school improvement.
Mr. Shapira said he sees the Promise as a way to counter the "crisis" in American education, while Mrs. Shapira praised the "visionary aspect" of the Promise, a reference to its potential to attract families to the city, develop a more educated work force and enhance the city's image.
"This is a big picture, foundational, potentially transformative kind of a project," she said.
Money is only one of the benefits for students, Mrs. Shapira added, noting the school district is attempting to beef up academics so high school graduates have a better chance of making it through college.
Ms. Lewis said her work with the Promise is an outgrowth of her work with the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, which brought her into close contact with the late Fred Rogers.
"After working with Fred Rogers for so long, you become child-centered," said Ms. Lewis, who was museum president during a $28.8 million capital campaign that ended about five years ago.
Mr. Roosevelt and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl launched the Promise in December 2006, though it didn't get off the ground until UPMC announced about a year later that it would donate $10 million outright and offer the $90 million matching grant. The Promise made its first scholarships to about 760 students who graduated from district high schools and city charter schools in 2008.
Through 2011, the Promise will offer scholarships of up to $20,000 to each graduate who meets certain enrollment and academic criteria. In 2012, the maximum scholarship will jump to $40,000.
Individual scholarship amounts are determined by various factors, including a student's post-secondary costs. Scholarships may be used for tuition, fees, room, board and books at any public or private college, university or trade school statewide.
Last school year, the Promise raised $15.2 million, more than enough to leverage the first $10 million of the UPMC match. Of that sum, about $13 million came from foundations and about $2 million from corporations and individuals.
So far this school year, the Promise is $7.5 million toward its $15 million fundraising goal; $7.2 million of that represents continuing support from foundations, Mr. Ghubril said.
And that's why the Promise now is ratcheting up efforts to obtain gifts from businesses and business leaders, inside and outside the city.
The five will use various arguments to attract donations, such as the economic benefits of a more educated work force.
In a study of 51 metropolitan areas, CEOs for Cities projected that the Pittsburgh region alone could realize an additional $1.8 billion in personal income annually if it boosted from 27.1 to 28.1 the percentage of residents 25 and older with bachelor's degrees. The 1 percentage point increase would translate to an additional 6,600 or so bachelor's recipients.
Group donations are a possibility, Mr. Ghubril said, noting that a group of high school alumni could elect to sponsor a student or group of students. He said he didn't want students to be "props" but would make Promise recipients available if a prospective donor wanted to hear firsthand accounts of the scholarship's impact.
"There's nothing more powerful than the personal story," he said.
Joe Smydo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1548.