By John N. Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Jim Kenney is set to announce an ambitious plan Thursday that would make attending Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) free for qualifying full-time students.
The Octavius Catto Scholarship, named for one of the city’s more famous African-American civil rights leaders, would make CCP free to an estimated 6,500 students over the next five years if approved.
“Building off our historic investments in quality pre-K and the School District of Philadelphia over the last four years, the time has come to strengthen the pre-K-to-college continuum in our city,” Kenney said in a statement. “A post-secondary degree or credential is essential for the good-paying jobs to today and tomorrow, yet the rising cost of higher education and the student debt crisis have made it virtually unattainable for far too many of our students, especially students of color.
“The Catto Scholarship will change these circumstances, putting Catto scholars on a path to prosperity,” Kenney continued. “At the same time, it will strengthen our economy since increasing tow- and four-year college degree attainment is a major drive of inclusive, economic growth.”
The Catto Scholarship is expected to cost $63.2 million over five years; the money would come from the city’s general fund.
The city is also investing an additional $24 million over the next five years to support additional operating needs and to make a “critical one-time capital investment.” The city annually budgets $36 million for CCP, bringing the city’s full investment up to about $270 million over the next five years.
If approved by Philadelphia City Council, the Catto Scholarship would begin enrolling students this fall.
“We are thrilled that Mayor Kenney is proposing to invest in the city’s college, as the best partner to make the transformative power of education available to even more Philadelphians,” said CCP President Donald Guy Generals in a statement.
To qualify for the Catto Scholarship program, students must be residents of Philadelphia.
New, first-time students enrolled full-time (12 credits per semester) would receive funding to cover the remainder of their tuition and fees after scholarships, and state and federal financial aid been applied; $1,500 for food, transportation and books; support from an array of academic advisors and other essential academic staff; and connection to various city benefits and social services.
To remain eligible, students must maintain city residency, full-time enrollment and maintain a 2.0 grade point average after the first year and meet certain benchmarks.
The program would also expand dual enrollment opportunities for School District of Philadelphia students.
The program targets the role played by poverty in preventing city residents from pursuing a college education. At 25.7 percent, Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate among the nations 10 largest cities. For a household of three the federal poverty rate is defined as an annual income of $21,330.
A 2019 survey of students found that 70 percent of community college student respondents had experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity, or homelessness in the previous year, and 39 percent of those students reported having been both food and housing insecure in thee previous year.
Most CCP students are people of color; African Americans account for 43 percent of the student body, Latino or Hispanic students account for 15 percent, and Asian or Pacific Islander students account for 9 percent.
Approximately 70 percent of the students are eligible federal Pell grant funding.
John N. Mitchell is a reporter and columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.