Kenney to propose plan to make Community College of Philadelphia tuition-free for thousands

Pat Loeb
March 05, 2020 - 12:15 am
Mayor Kenney’s Chief Education Officer Otis Hackney, CCP president Guy Generals and CCP vice president for academic affairs Judith Gay.

Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Mayor Jim Kenney is set to announce the creation of a new, city-funded scholarship for Community College of Philadelphia students, when he unveils his budget plan Thursday.

Named after one of the mayor's heroes, 19th century civil rights activist Octavius Catto, the scholarship would provide whatever tuition students need after receiving state and federal financial aid, as well as $1,500 each semester for transportation, food and books. A new office at the college would provide extra academic support. 

"The Catto scholarship will be transformative," said Dr. Guy Generals, president of CCP. "It will allow for the power of education to be accessible to more students throughout the city of Philadelphia."

City officials say the scholarship will make CCP tuition-free for about 6,500 students over the next five years, beginning with 2,300 new and returning students this fall.

Related: Mayor hints at new initiative to ease accessibility of community college

The five-year cost is estimated at $63 million that will come out of the general fund.

The mayor's education chief Otis Hackney says it is a top budget priority.

"It's a huge part of Mayor Kenney's anti-poverty strategy," he said.

The goal is to increase enrollment, retention and the rate of students graduating within three years. It's based on a model at the City University of New York that officials say has shown success in those areas.

"It's a real tragedy that over 3,000 students a year are dropping out after they qualify for financial aid because they can't afford the books, they can't afford child care, they can't afford transportation," Generals said, citing a survey that showed the need is especially high at CCP. "Fifty-two percent of our respondents experienced food insecurity, 55 percent experienced housing insecurity and 18 percent experienced homelessness, so this is the kind of challenge this program will begin to address." 

Generals expects strong public support for the scholarship.

"It's an idea whose time has come," he said. "A hundred years ago, high schools were not free and it became a public good because of the Industrial Revolution. Now, we're at a point in society where 60 percent of all the jobs by 2025 will require some level of postsecondary education. We're between 40 and 45 percent. There's a real social, economic need and people are beginning to realize that if we're going to turn this economy around, given the level of education and training that's needed for modern jobs, we have to go beyond high school and find ways to fund postsecondary education."

Hackney has a personal perspective on the scholarship.

"I had a program that provided last dollar tuition so I could continue at CCP," he said, "so when we think about that level of investment, that someone could become a teacher, a principal, a chief education officer, this investment is definitely worth it," he said.