Meanwhile, Penn has met the full financial need of city students for many years with its “mayor’s scholarship,” and Temple currently has 20 attending on full scholarships.
“I am proud of the progress we have made over the last two years but recognize that we have much further to go,” Nutter said in a news release.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, only about 21 percent of Philadelphians over the age of 25 have college degrees, while 25 percent never graduated high school.
Though only slightly below the national averages, these totals highlight the particular conundrum the city faces.
On one hand, Philadelphia is one of the largest college towns in the country, home to more than 120,000 college students and a number of esteemed post-secondary institutions. But on the other, Philadelphia ranks 92nd out of the nation’s 100 largest cities in the percentage of college-educated residents. Making matters worse is that Philly also is the 10th poorest city in the U.S.
Yet while Shorr says there’s “no doubt been an increase in the number of students applying to college,” she says that the number actually earning a degree is decreasing.
In other words, getting more Philadelphians “2 college” isn’t really the problem—it’s getting them through college.
“All educators need to have a common definition of success,” says Rob Schnieders, director of National Engagement at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute. “That is, preparing all students for success in college and beyond, not just getting them out the doors of our particular grade level or institution.”
But the path to college completion is impeded by other challenges that disproportionately effect low-income, first- generation students.
In a national survey by the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Public Agenda, six in 10 college drop-outs cite lack of finances as the primary reason for leaving school. And though heading to a public, two-year college is a popular choice for low-income, first-generation students (75 percent), they’re seven times more likely to earn a degree if they start in a four-year institution.
“There is not really an accessible public, four-year college option in Philadelphia, which is surprising for a major U.S city,” says Dr. Blake Naughton, director of the Executive Doctorate in Higher Education Management at Penn.
According to Mattleman, almost all of the college students who call or stop by the PhillyGoes2College office are looking for information on scholarships.
However, there are other obstacles that college-seeking students face.
“Most urban school districts are preparing only a small fraction of children for success in college,” says Timothy Knowles, the Director of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute.
In fact, more than 60 percent are required to take at least one remedial course upon entering college, thus pushing the finish line even further away, according to Public Agenda.
The Mayor’s Office of Education says that ultimately, this all leads back to the Philadelphia School District, which, despite steady improvements in PSSA scores and high school graduation rates, is still sending college-bound seniors unequipped to compete with the challenges of attainting a degree.
About two years ago, the counselor-to-student ratio in some schools neared 1:700. But as part of the school district’s Imagine 2014 plan, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is looking to reduce the counselor to student ratio in middle schools to 1:250 and in high schools to 1:300.
But Knowles doesn’t think this is enough. “All personnel in the school house must become counselors if we expect to get this work done in dramatically different ways,” he says.
So exactly where does this leave Nutter’s goal to create a more educated citizenry?
“Almost every city in the nation would claim to be tackling this issue,” Knowles says, adding that only a few are tackling it effectively.
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.
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