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Philadelphia plan offers free community college

A new free community college program will assist eligible Philadelphia residents by providing up to three years of tuition support. The Octavius Catto Scholarship will enable new students to attend the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) free beginning next semester. The scholarship will also provide up to $1,500 per semester for food, books and other costs.

The scholarship expands an existing partnership between the City of Philadelphia and CCP. Eligible applicants must have lived in the City of Philadelphia for at least 12 months; have a high school diploma or GED from any high school in the City of Philadelphia; enroll in at least 12 credits per semester; complete the FAFSA; and maintain a GPA of at least 2.0 while enrolled in the program. Students must also be “college-ready” or nearly “college-ready.”

The partnership aims to help qualified students overcome challenges that would otherwise prevent them from remaining in school. Like many other free community college programs, the Catto scholarship is a last-dollar program. Applicants must apply for and use all federal and state financial aid first. The program will cover the applicants’ remaining cost of attendance and provide a stipend for other expenses.

The Catto Scholarship is modeled after CUNY’s ASAP program, one of the first free community college programs in the country. The CUNY ASAP program aims to supplement tuition grants with support services for low-income students. The programs aim to address secondary issues that prevent students from remaining enrolled in classes.

Free community college is a form of economic justice

In the past five years, the program has assisted 4,500 residents. It is another sign that free community college programs work, especially for those most deeply mired in poverty. The program also illustrates what happens when community organizations combine resources to combat poverty and help individuals succeed.

Building programs that address the needs of the community and creating opportunities for people living in poverty aren’t flashy. You can’t really put your name on them. But they’re more useful and contribute more to a community than a hotel does.

The diversion of educational dollars is an important issue. Washtenaw County voters voluntarily taxed themselves to build a high-quality, low-cost educational institution. They did not agree to finance speculative real estate ventures. Diverting funds from education ensures that the most impoverished county residents will remain that way.

That is the very definition of economic injustice.

Photo Credit: Philipi Taylor, via Flickr