Despite the economic slump, two foundations yesterday announced plans to make unusually large gifts, totaling $13 million, to the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program for city students.
The Pittsburgh Foundation said it will give $3 million immediately, the biggest gift in the philanthropy's 63-year history.
It also plans to give another $2 million over the next four years and $5 million in the five years after that. The foundation has made a "commitment in principle" to the $7 million, but its board of directors must ratify disbursements before they're made, spokesman John Ellis said.
The 81-year-old Buhl Foundation said it plans to give $3 million over 10 years, leaving open the possibility of an adjustment after five years. That gift and a $3 million grant in 2002 to endow the director's position at the Carnegie Science Center are the foundation's largest awards ever.
"If I had not had back surgery two months ago, I would be doing cartwheels in Market Square," Saleem Ghubril, Promise's executive director, said at a news conference at the Pittsburgh Foundation offices, Downtown.
The Pittsburgh Foundation, which also administers the scholarship program, initially announced just the $3 million gift and $2 million commitment. It announced the $5 million commitment later in the day.
Though philanthropies nationwide have seen their investments affected by stock market volatility, forcing them to look more carefully at funding requests, officials of the Pittsburgh and Buhl foundations said the Promise deserves strong support.
"This is the future in stark, simple terms," said Grant Oliphant, president and chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh Foundation.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt announced the Promise in December 2006, hoping to make college more affordable for the city's students, many of them poor. The pair also view the Promise as a way to attract middle-class families needed to reinvigorate the city and retain those already here.
Though yesterday's announcements were welcome news, the Promise's fundraising work has just begun.
In all, the program must raise $135 million within a decade to leverage all $90 million of a challenge grant from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. To leverage the first $10 million of the UPMC challenge, the Promise must raise $15 million this school year.
So far, the Promise is about $5 million toward the $15 million goal -- counting the initial $3 million from the Pittsburgh Foundation, an initial $300,000 from the Buhl Foundation, a $1 million gift from the Massey Charitable Trust announced in June and smaller donations from other groups.
Additional amounts from the Pittsburgh and Buhl foundations will count toward challenge requirements in future years, Mr. Ellis said. The foundations' planned donation schedules coincide with the challenge period.
Mr. Ghubril said another funding announcement may be made in two weeks.
UPMC gave the Promise $10 million outright and made the $90 million challenge offer last December.
The Promise made its inaugural round of scholarships, totaling about $3 million, to about 750 students who graduated from city high schools and charter schools in June. The money may be used at any of about 100 approved postsecondary schools, all in Pennsylvania.
Through 2011, the Promise will award up to $20,000 to each high school graduate who attends one of the approved postsecondary schools and meets certain academic and school enrollment requirements. Beginning with the class of 2012, the maximum scholarship will increase to $40,000.
The scholarships this school year cover tuition and fees. Beginning next school year, recipients also may use them for books, room and board.
The Promise is part of Mr. Roosevelt's plan to revitalize the city school district, and Mr. Oliphant and Frederick W. Thieman, president and CEO of the Buhl Foundation, said they will monitor the improvement efforts. Mr. Thieman said his foundation was pleased with how the district used a previous $277,000 grant to develop a new sci-tech school, to open next fall.
"It confirmed the belief for us that [Pittsburgh Public Schools] is moving in the right direction," Mr. Thieman said.
Joe Smydo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1548.