Looking to improve success rates for local students, the City of Philadelphia has partnered with the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) to establish the Octavius Catto Scholarship, which was named in honor of the civil rights activist and educator.
For up to three years, the scholarship will provide students with last-dollar funding to cover the cost of tuition as well as offer financial support for other costs such as food, transportation and textbooks.
“The namesake is key,” said Dr. Donald Guy Generals, president of CCP. “Octavius Catto gave his life for these type of social justice initiatives, particularly education. I think as a symbol of what education can do and what it should do for our society, his name and his legacy is as much a part of this as anything else.”
In addition to addressing financial barriers, the scholarship also offers social supports including career counseling, advising, tutoring and childcare resources and affordable housing.
According to the 2019 #RealCollege Survey, 70% of community college student respondents experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity or homelessness during the previous year.
“It is not just about getting them into the door, but it is about helping them be successful,” said Generals. “That is the key. We are placing a stake in the ground that this will be a successful program, that we will retain students as a result of that and there will be graduates who go into the workforce and will be able to find jobs beyond family sustainable wages and have prosperous careers.”
By 2030, 60% or more of all new jobs will require some level of college education, he said.
As a last-dollar scholarship recipient himself, Otis Hackney understands its impact. Starting off as a CCP student, Hackney now works as chief education officer for the City of Philadelphia.
“Programs like this and opportunities like this work for regular Philadelphians like myself,” he said. “And understanding the new trajectory that it can put students on is important.”
Over the next five years, 4,500 students are expected to receive the scholarship.
According to the scholarship’s website, to be eligible, students must:
- Hold a high school diploma, Commonwealth Diploma or GED from any Philadelphia high school, Pennsylvania state cyber charter school or home school.
- Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and certify an Expected Family Contribution below $8,000.
- Attend Community College of Philadelphia full-time, which is equivalent to enrolling in at least 12 credits per semester.
- Be a Philadelphia resident for at least one year.
- Enroll in CCP’s college-ready course or one level below.
Other application options are available for undocumented students.
To keep the scholarship while earning their degree, students must be enrolled full-time, complete an annual FAFSA form, meet credit requirements, remain a resident of Philadelphia and maintain a 2.0 GPA, the scholarship’s website reported.
Students can now apply to be Cato Scholars for the 2021 spring semester.
“We know that in order to be able to rebound, in terms of those who have been left behind as a result of the pandemic and will have to retool and find ways to get back into the workforce, community college would be the ideal opportunity for them both in terms of cost and accessibility,” said Generals.
Through the scholarship program, Dr. April Voltz, executive director of the Octavius Catto Scholarship, expects to see a 15% increase in retention rates as well as a 25% increase in three-year graduation completion rates among CCP students by 2025.
“Currently, Black students on average take a year longer to complete than White students, incurring more debt along the way,” she said. “We must make every effort to close that gap.”
During the 2021 fiscal year, 4.8 million will be invested in the Octavius Catto Scholarship by the City of Philadelphia. In total, over the next five years, $47.4 million will go toward funding the program. CCP will also receive an additional $16.3 million to support other operating needs.
This funding is on top of Philadelphia’s annual grant to CCP of $36.1 million, according to the scholarship’s website.
The development of the Octavius Catto Scholarship is part of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed Poverty Action Plan, which aims to get 100,000 Philadelphians out of poverty during the next four years. The current poverty rate in the city is 24.5% which equals 377,116 residents, according to the City Council of Philadelphia.
In 2017, the poverty rate for working people with a high school diploma was 6.2% compared to 3.2% with an associates degree and 1.5% of those with a bachelor’s degree, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.
“[Mayor Kenney] has shown his commitment to education throughout his tenure and I think the investment that is being made here at a time when much of our economy is being cut back shows the understanding of how important education is to revitalizing and to recharging the communities,” said Generals.
Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].