Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter Opens College Assistance Office

March 8, 2010
This article is the first in a new monthly series featuring ways in which mayors are working to meet the bold, measurable goals and specific local targets set for the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families. Launched in November 2008 and joined by more than 100 mayors, the challenge seeks to highlight and promote municipal leadership and innovation in helping children and families thrive.

On February 23, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's Office of Education opened a new PhillyGoes2College Office (PG2C) within City Hall and launched a companion website, www.PhillyGoes2College.com. These two sources of college access information are part of Mayor Nutter's education agenda to double the percentage of Philadelphians who attend and complete college in the next five to 10 years. The other education goal set by Mayor Nutter for the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families is to cut the city's dropout rate in half in five to 10 years.

"Philadelphia's future depends on increasing the number of our citizens with college degrees as we know that when we fail to help more people get to college, we fail to create the competitive workforce that is needed for our city and state," said Mayor Nutter. "With PhillyGoes2College, Philadelphians of all ages will receive the information and referrals they need to plan for, attend and succeed in college."

The new college assistance office responds to troubling statistics that prompted the mayor to act. Recent research showed that of 12,230 ninth graders entering Philadelphia public high schools in 1999, only 58 percent graduated within six years, 24 percent entered college within a year of high school graduation and 10 percent went on to complete college by the year 2009.

"With only 21 percent of our citizens now holding undergraduate degrees, the mayor has set an aggressive goal to support all Philadelphia residents who want to further their education," said Philadelphia Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr.

Low college completion rates have a direct impact on the city's economic vitality, since college graduates earn an average of about $1.5 million more than high school dropouts over their lifetimes, and will contribute nearly $1 million more in local, state and federal taxes.

"College degree attainment is critical to ensuring a city's economic viability," said NLC Executive Director Donald J. Borut, in remarks made at the February 23 press conference. "Mayor Nutter is to be commended for his leadership to increase Philadelphia's college attainment rate. There is no doubt that this office will serve as a model for other cities nationwide."

Helping Students Apply to College and Receive Aid

The PhillyGoes2College Office will provide middle and high school students with a comprehensive set of information and referral services. High school students will receive help with the multiple steps of the college application process, and assistance in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Last November, the office sponsored a College Awareness Week, drawing thousands of students to college fairs and prep sessions, including a session on Historically Black Colleges and Universities attended by more than 1,500 students.

This past winter, the office worked with the school district, colleges and universities and nonprofit partners to train 100 city employees to help students complete the FAFSA form and prepare scholarship application essays.  This effort increased financial aid applications by 12 percent, resulting in nearly $200 million in additional financial aid for Philadelphia students.

During the spring, the office will sponsor workshops to help students apply for state financial aid. Mayor Nutter has also called on local postsecondary institutions to extend an additional 1,000 scholarships.

In addition to providing local and national college access information, the new PhillyGoes2College website provides links to services that let students input test scores and grades to generate a list of colleges that match their needs and qualifications.

The PhillyGoes2College Office will not only target young students, but will also make its services available to the 73,000 residents who have completed some college credits but did not earn a degree, and to adults who have no credits.

"As a country, we must do all we can to increase the resources and opportunities available to our citizens in their pursuit of a college degree," said Greg Darnieder, special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Education, who joined Nutter, Borut, Councilmember Jannie Blackwell, state senators and state legislative staff at the press conference.

According to Mayor Nutter, PhillyGoes2College "is a major component of attaining the two goals" set at the beginning of his term. "This is for young people, and the young at heart, who want to continue their education."

Details: To learn more, visit www.PhillyGoes2College.com.  For information on the Mayors' Action Challenge, visit www.mayorsforkids.org or contact Michael Karpman at (202) 626-3072 or karpman@nlc.org.