The Pittsburgh Promise is spreading the wealth.
New statistics from the group show the percentage of black students receiving the college scholarship is rising.
Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise, eagerly shared the new numbers in hopes of dispelling persistent "chatter" that he has heard accusing the Promise of not doing enough to help black students, particularly black males.
M. Gayle Moss, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP, previously had expressed concerns that fewer African-American students have been able to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise because of educational inequities in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
"I think the Promise is wonderful," Ms. Moss said. "But if you don't have good teachers, if your kids don't come out with a good education and they're not properly prepared, they're not going to be able to take advantage of that program."
The Pittsburgh Promise provides up to $20,000 over four years of college for students meeting grade point average and attendance requirements. In the three years of the program, the minimum GPA has risen from 2.0 to 2.5, and the attendance requirement has gone from none to 90 percent.
Next year's graduating seniors will be eligible for an additional $20,000 over four years if they attain qualifying scores on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) or SAT exams.
For the Class of 2008, the first year of students eligible for the Promise, only 96 African-American male students received a scholarship award for the following school year.
"While this reflects a national trend, we're still not pleased with it," Mr. Ghubril said. "We want to see our boys be high achieving as well."
Black females fared better, with 205 using a scholarship in the first year, but those numbers are still a relatively small percentage of the 890 black students who graduated from Pittsburgh Public Schools in 2008.
Despite fewer total students and increased eligibility requirements, the Promise granted more scholarships to black male students in the Class of 2010 than the Class of 2008, Mr. Ghubril said.
For the Class of 2010, 124 black males and 200 black females received scholarships in the first year. Students have five years after they graduate to use scholarship money.
The percentage of black female students receiving scholarships is now close to their percentage in the school district as a whole, he said. African-American males, who make up about 26 percent of the school district, received 13.2 percent of Promise scholarships in 2008 and 17.6 percent in 2010.
"The movement is encouraging," Mr. Ghubril said. "As a percentage of the whole, scholarship recipients are starting to look like the demographics of the district."
Mr. Ghubril also provided cumulative data on the family income of Promise recipients, gleaned from data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which students must submit every year to retain their scholarships.
About 62 percent of Promise recipients have an expected family contribution for college of less than $5,000, meaning they are eligible for federal Pell Grants, Mr. Ghubril said.
About 72 percent of the school district is eligible for the federal free lunch program, Mr. Ghubril said, which doesn't have the exact same requirements as a Pell Grant but is "fairly representative."
"If anyone feels that the Promise is being given to high-income students, it's a real misconception," he said.
About 5 percent of Promise recipients fell into the $30,000-and-over expected family contribution category, likely indicating a family income well into six figures.
Mr. Ghubril noted that having well-off families accept the Promise also fits into one of the program's goals of "keeping the middle class in Pittsburgh and growing."
Interest in the Pittsburgh Promise has continued to grow nationwide, said Mr. Ghubril. In October, the Promise will host a conference bringing together about 250 visitors from 15 different cities interested in replicating Promise-type scholarship programs.
Anya Sostek: email@example.com or 412-263-1308.