Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Offer to Help Other Cities Replicate Graduation Coach Campaigns

June 6, 2013

By Andrew Moore and Michael Karpman

The Cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are generously offering assistance to other cities that are interested in providing support to young people who seek to enter and complete college.  Both cities have developed tools and resources that municipal officials can use to replicate their large-scale Graduation Coach Campaigns.

These campaigns empower adults in the community to provide information, assistance and encouragement to young people with whom they have an established relationship as these youth strive to complete high school and college on the pathway to a successful career.  

Studies show that a growing share of jobs require some form of postsecondary education or training.  Yet nearly half of undergraduate students do not complete a degree or certificate within six years, and completion rates are even lower for students who are low-income, enrolled part-time or attending community colleges.  In addition, nearly half of low-income high school graduates do not enroll in college.  Graduation coaching is one strategy that cities are using to increase the number of students who receive a postsecondary degree or credential.

Philadelphia's Graduation Coach Campaign

Upon taking office in 2008, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter pledged to cut the city's high school dropout rate in half within five to seven years and double the percentage of college graduates within five to 10 years.  To achieve these ambitious goals, the mayor has launched innovative efforts to prepare students for postsecondary success.

Staffed by the PhillyGoes2College initiative within the Mayor's Office of Education, Philadelphia's Graduation Coach Campaign partners with community organizations, schools, and faith-based institutions to recruit adults who are willing to coach students in taking the steps that are necessary to attend and complete college.  Philadelphia's methods to increase the number of coaches and improve the effectiveness of the campaign include five-hour train-the-trainer workshops for coach trainers conducted twice per year and 90-minute workshops for prospective coaches conducted in partnership with community-based organizations.  In addition to attending the free workshops, participating adult coaches receive follow-up information through regular emails and periodic campaign events.

Over the past three years, the campaign has trained more than 4,500 coaches through 350 workshops of varying scale.  To build on this success, the campaign plans to increase its citywide messaging efforts; target social service systems for coach recruitment, training and engagement and to provide service recipients with campaign information; and conduct intensive grassroots organizing in two pilot high-need areas.

Pittsburgh's Promise Coaches

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh Promise initiative, developed in partnership with The Pittsburgh Foundation and Pittsburgh Public Schools, has assisted nearly 3,800 of the city's public school students in going to college by providing scholarships of up to $40,000.

As part of his efforts to build a college-going culture throughout Pittsburgh, the mayor's Promise Coaches Campaign plans to train 500 coaches who can help students pursue a postsecondary education.  Materials developed by the Philadelphia Graduation Coach Campaign helped inform the Promise Coaches initiative.

Resources for Cities

During a recent webinar, representatives of mayor's offices in the two cities explained aspects of their respective campaigns and highlighted resources available to other cities that are interested in planning, implementing and assessing similar campaigns.

For instance, the Philadelphia campaign has developed highly accessible resources, information and conversation guides for coaches.  The Play Book, available in English and Spanish, constitutes one example of a coaching tool.

Prior to launching a graduation coaching campaign, these cities recommend determining the level of need through geographic data analysis and identifying potential partners among community-based and nonprofit organizations.  Philadelphia and Pittsburgh also offer sample budgets, timelines, evaluation plans and descriptions of roles for data analysis partners.  At the outset, the two more experienced cities typically refer others to a "readiness checklist."

To learn more about Philadelphia's Graduation Coach Campaign, contact Sayeh Hormozi at (215) 686-2165 or sayeh.hormozi@phila.gov.  To learn more about Pittsburgh's Promise Coaches Campaign, contact Rebecca Delphia at (412) 255-4765 or rebecca.delphia@pittsburghpa.gov.