The Pittsburgh Promise yesterday more than doubled the number of colleges, universities and trade schools where students may use the program's scholarships.
Until now, recipients could use the scholarships at any of about 100 postsecondary institutions, including all private schools in Allegheny County and all public schools statewide. From now on, graduates may use the money at any private or public school in the state.
The Promise said that decision gives students an additional 140 schools from which to choose. Private schools generally have higher tuition rates than public schools, so the decision potentially means some students may consider a private education for the first time.
"We have made the decision to expand the choice for our students because we believe it is right and fair to be as inclusive as possible while maintaining sound financial oversight," Saleem Ghubril, the Promise's executive director, said in a statement. "At the same time, we believe it will increase the attractiveness of the scholarship program for families considering moving into the city."
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt established the program in December 2006, hoping it would lure families to the city and help retain those already here. The first round of scholarships was awarded to 710 members of the Class of 2008.
Recipients must be graduates of the school district or city charter schools who meet certain academic and enrollment criteria.
The expanded list of schools benefits not only 2009 graduates and students in subsequent classes, but 70 of last year's graduates who were denied Promise money because they enrolled in private schools outside Allegheny County but within Pennsylvania. Those 70 now will be eligible for Promise scholarships.
Linda Clautti, chief executive officer of Northside Urban Pathways, a Downtown charter school, said parents and students will be grateful for the new opportunities. But she said many of this year's graduates may not benefit from the expansion because they already been accepted at colleges in the initial list of Promise-eligible schools.
"The timing is not the best," she said.
Jennifer Winge, director of admissions at Allegheny College in Meadville, Crawford County, called the announcement "great news."
Ms. Winge said some prospective students and their families had expressed concern about affording Allegheny -- where tuition, room, board and fees will be $42,000 next school year-- without Promise help. But she said the concern hasn't been as pervasive as college officials thought it might be.
Don Orlando, spokesman for St. Vincent College in Latrobe, where 2009-10 costs total about $34,900, also praised the announcement.
"We have always gotten a lot of applicants from the Pittsburgh city schools, and I would think that would even increase now," he said.
Through 2011, graduates will be eligible for a maximum of $20,000 over four years. Officials hope to double the maximum scholarship to $40,000 beginning with the Class of 2012.
More than once, the Promise board has cited a desire for inclusiveness in modifying scholarship criteria.
In September, it lowered the minimum grade-point average, from 2.5 to 2.25, that 2009 graduates must have for eligibility. The minimum GPA increases to 2.5 for the Class of 2010 and beyond.
The Promise initially was designed to cover tuition and fees. In October, the Promise board approved the use of scholarships for books, room and board, too.
Joe Smydo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1548.