Philadelphia Program Offers Free Tuition for Community College Students Near Degree Completion

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by Michelle D. Anderson

In an effort to reduce the financial pressures on current and prospective students, the city of Philadelphia and its largest public postsecondary institution has launched a new program to aid students in completing their college degree.

During a recent press conference, the Community College of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter unveiled the My Degree Now program, which targets cash-strapped students committed to completing a degree within two or three years.

“My Degree Now is offering a wonderful opportunity for Philadelphians who are working to reach their goals while pursuing pathways that will lead to exciting opportunities … this program is a step in the right direction,” said Nutter, who during his January inauguration pledged to double the rate of college degree recipients and lower high school dropout rates in the city.

The pilot program will allow Philadelphia residents with at least 30 or more college credits the opportunity to earn an associate degree without incurring tuition or other school-related fees.

Funded by a $100,000 donation from an unidentified source, the program will also provide up to $200 a semester for textbooks to employees whose employers are interested in this partnership. To be eligible for the program applicants must be Philadelphia County residents and must not be in default of any prior educational loans.

The college’s president, Stephen Curtis, estimated that 100 to 300 students would opt for the plan in the first year and said there’s enough funding to cover all costs for those students for the next three years, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report. He added that the college will attempt to raise funds to sustain the program’s future.

Latest figures show that approximately 56 percent of the college’s students receive some type of financial aid.

“By providing educational opportunities, the college works to benefit residents and the city as a whole. When companies enhance their employees’ knowledge, they grow and prosper, as does Philadelphia’s economy,” Curtis said.

The My Degree Now initiative is among other measures local government and the higher education institution are spearheading to help Philadelphia area students earn college degrees, since only a fifth of the city residents have a college degree, according the Philadelphia Inquirer and other news reports.

The Community College of Philadelphia announced in July that as the new fiscal year begins, the college would avoid increases in tuition fees for the 2008-2009 year. The college’s decision marks the first occurrence of a tuition freeze in nearly two decades, according to a release. The freeze prompted in part by the city council’s decision to increase funding for the college by $4 million dollars.

Over half of the college’s graduates continue their education at a four-year institution, and minority students constitute about 74 percent of the school’s student population. The college ranks No. 4 in the nation for awarding associate degrees to Black students, according to Diverse’s Top 100 rankings 2008.

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