Pittsburgh Promise loosens scholarship restrictions for technical programs

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The Pittsburgh Promise plans to announce today students could use their post-secondary scholarship money for certain career and technology programs at Community College of Allegheny County while still in high school.

“The exciting part is its potential to engage kids early and to have better prepared graduates of Pittsburgh Public Schools to enter the workforce immediately after graduation,” said Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise.

The offer will begin this fall with students in the district’s RHVAC (refrigeration, heating, ventilation and air conditioning) program as well as those in health careers. The RHVAC program is based at Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill; health careers is at Perry High School on the North Side, Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood and Carrick High School.

This fall, 23 students are expected to be in the RHVAC program and a combined 97 in health careers. The programs are open to students throughout the district.

More fields — energy, advanced manufacturing and welding, and information/​computer technology — will be added in fall 2015. Mr. Ghubril hopes as many as 500 students will be enrolled by 2016.

“This is becoming my mantra: A high school diploma is just not enough, but a four-year degree is not always necessary. This is not about being college material or not being college material. This is driven much more by the opportunities that exist,” Mr. Ghubril said.

He quoted figures from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board that more than 60 percent of available jobs in the region require specialized technical training while 40 percent require a four-year degree.

The Promise provides post-secondary scholarships within Pennsylvania of as much as $40,000 within five years of graduation for city residents who attend district schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools within the city if they meet certain requirements, including a grade-point average of 2.5 and a 90 percent attendance rate. The Promise also has an extension program that gives those with grade-point averages of 2.0 to 2.5 a chance to attend CCAC. If they succeed, they may continue to receive a scholarship.

In the new program, some of the scholarship money will be spent while the student is in high school to pay for the post-secondary credits, transportation and driver’‍s education.

The Promise does not require a particular grade-point average or attendance rate to qualify for the classes. If the student fails to meet the standard when graduating from high school, the student won’t have to pay the money back but won’t be eligible for further money.

On average over the past six years, Mr. Ghubril said 74 percent of graduates were eligible for the Promise or the extension. However, only about half of the graduates used it.

When students were asked why they didn’t use it, some said they went to school out-of-state, which the Promise does not cover. Some enlisted in the military and will have a scholarship available if the GI Bill does not cover all of their expenses. Mr. Ghubril believes the most common scenario is the students not using their scholarships weren’t doing anything to advance their education.

“None of the decent-paying jobs can be found with a high school diploma,” he said. “That large chunk of our kids is essentially doomed to minimum-wage work.”

By offering a chance to start career training in high school, Mr. Ghubril hopes to better engage students in their education.

In grades 10-12, students will enroll in the regular CTE programs in city high schools, but in grades 11 and 12, besides the coursework the district offers, they also will be able to take classes at CCAC — on the Allegheny campus or the West Hills Center — with the Promise providing transportation from the high school CTE site to CCAC. They also will take driver’s education in the summer after their junior year.

Those in the RHVAC program will be able to earn 12 credits at CCAC in their junior and senior years, which the Promise will pay for. Combined with 12 credits that could be earned in the district program if they pass certain competency and other exams, they could graduate high school with as many as 24 credits. That would leave just eight credits to complete certification in heating and air conditioning technology at CCAC, or it would leave 42 credits for an associate degree.

If they don’t go on to further education but do the various credentials in high school, they will be qualified for jobs such as utility operator and energy management technician. Mr. Ghubril said that could be enough to move them from jobs that pay $20,000 to $25,000 a year to those paying $35,000 to $40,000 a year.

In health careers, students take the district program and can earn as many as 14 credits in their junior and senior years at CCAC, which the Promise will pay for. If they graduate high school with 14 credits, they will need just 12 more credits at CCAC to get full certification as a medical insurance specialist.

The programs that will be added in 2015 will build on the district’‍s CTE programs in machine operations, information technology and engineering.

The Promise also will partner with the Energy Innovation Center when it opens in the former Connelley Technical Institute and Adult Education Center in the Hill District. It is possible that partnerships with other trade schools also might be established.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1955 or on Twitter @Eleanor_Chute.

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