Note to Philadelphians: Mayor Nutter wants you to go to college. In fact, he’s begging you.
In the last two years, the mayor has proven his commitment to improving the educational attainment of city residents. He got an additional $51 million for the school district. He has even rewarded students with box-seat tickets to Phillies games. Now, he’s going to help guide you through the college-admissions process.
Hoping to remove some of the real and perceived barriers keeping more Philadelphians from applying, the city launched the “PhillyGoes2College” campaign in Jan. 2008.
A month later, PhillyGoes2College opened its office on the first floor of City Hall, where residents can get one-on-one assistance with applying to and paying for college. Additional information on workshops, financial aid and college events is also offered on its Web site, phillygoes2college.com.
The office, which the mayor’s chief education officer Lori Shorr describes as “sort of the 311 of college going,” is the first of its kind in a major U.S. city.
“If we are going to remain economically competitive as a region, we have to get more kids going to college,” Shorr says.
According to a 2007 report released by the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board, a nonprofit organization that studies labor in the region, a 40 percent increase in the city’s percentage of college graduates would raise the number of employed Philadelphians by 32,000, and increase the city’s wage base by $1.8 billion.
With his eyes on this huge incentive, Nutter has promised to double the percentage of city residents with college degrees within the next decade.
Fortunately, the two-year education report released by the Mayor’s Office of Education already shows signs of progress.
Essentially, the purpose of the PhillyGoes2College office is to connect students with the appropriate resources available. (The “2” is supposed to represent $2 million, as in how much a college grad in Philly can earn over a lifetime.)
“We have huge communication issues about the resources out there,” Shorr says.
Volunteer advisors in this office simply direct residents to the many services available to them through programs like WorkReady Philadelphia; Graduate! Philadelphia; the school district’s Re-engagement Center and Office of College Awareness; Campus Philly; and the three College Access Centers around the city.
So far, Barbara Mattleman, the office coordinator, says they’ve been getting about 15 calls and walk-ins a week, while the Web site is averaging 150 visitors a day.
She adds that the majority of walk-ins have been “comebackers”—adult residents who have completed some college but never earned a degree.
“I think that everyone coming here already knows that they want to go [to college], but have something standing in their way,” says Shandra Bernath-Plaisted, the office’s outreach worker.
In November, the campaign sponsored the city’s first College Awareness Week. Some events had record participation, including the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Fair, which drew 1,500 more students than in 2008.
Last winter, PhillyGoes2College recruited and trained 100 city employee volunteers to help high school seniors and their parents complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Its efforts resulted in a 12 percent increase in applications; more than $194 million in financial aid was given.
Nutter is also promising to get 100 new fully-funded scholarships from the area’s universities by September and 1,000 before the end of his term.
Drexel announced recently it would create 250 scholarships for low-income city students over the next five years. The University of the Sciences and St. Joseph’s University are expected to follow suit.
Though most young people intuitively understand that they need help with the transition into adulthood, the answers that weren’t clear at all had to do with whether Philly’s urban youth were actually getting that help—and where they should look for it if they weren’t.