Growing Promise: The city school scholarship plan has momentum

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The Pittsburgh Promise just became more promising, not in the size of its scholarships to city public school students who want to go to college, but in the ability of the fund to provide the scholarships into the future.

The Promise will accelerate its fundraising efforts, hoping to obtain an additional $90 million in two years instead of by 2018. That would fulfill its initial goal of $250 million.

UPMC, a friend of the idea from the beginning, has rallied to help further. It got the Promise rolling in late 2007 by giving $10 million and pledging $90 million more over 10 years if incentives were met (it said it would contribute $1 for every $1.50 raised). Although not enough donations arrived in recent years to leverage the full UPMC match, the health care network said it will provide the $90 million regardless of how long it takes.

Other large companies are also chipping in. On Monday, American Eagle Outfitters and Mylan announced they each will donate $1 million to the scholarship program.

Since 2008 the Promise has spent $32 million on scholarships, helping nearly 4,000 students attend two- and four-year college programs. Students at city public schools who have lived in the city and attended city schools continuously since ninth grade, maintain a 90 percent attendance record and achieve at least a 2.5 grade-point average, can get up to $10,000 a year for four years to attend a college in Pennsylvania.

Improving the city schools with the lure of the Promise may finally answer the question of how Pittsburgh is going to retain its young people and draw young families into the city.

Success can't be declared yet, but the signs are good. In a report last fall, city school enrollment dropped only slightly, by 182 students or 0.7 percent, not only less than expected but also smaller than other drops in recent years. And, as the Post-Gazette reported last week, U-Haul reported that more of its trucks were arriving in Pittsburgh than leaving at a greater percentage than anywhere else. In short, the state of the Promise is promising.

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