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Lenfest gives $750,000 for college attainment

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Philanthrophist H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest is donating $750,000 to the Mayor’s Office on Education to support efforts to increase both the high school and college graduation rates among Philadelphia residents.

The money will support the PhillyGoes2College initiative by creating more outreach for people of all ages to attend college.

The announcement of the three-year grant came at a crowded City Hall event Monday at which Mayor Nutter highlighted several of his administration’s efforts to improve high school and college completion, including working with the School District and truancy court to increase student attendance, the summer job WorkReady program, and the re-establishment of the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy.

Lenfest cited his foundation’s "new partnership" with the city and said that education is the city and nation’s highest priority. He said that the city "would not remain economically competitive" unless its percentage of college graduates — 18 percent in 2008, 21 percent now — increases. Nutter’s goal is to increase this to 36 percent by 2015.

Nutter called the 79-year-old donor, who made his money in cable and communications, the "DeSean Jackson of philanthropy" because he is a "high-impact player."

His foundation also supported bringing Teach for America to Philadelphia and has been a big backer of Mastery Charter Schools.

Some of the Lenfest money will go to track, through the mayor’s Council for College and Career Success, what happens to high school graduates when they get to college. A major study funded by the Knight Foundation has shown that just one in ten students who entered a Philadelphia public high school in 1999 had attained a two- or four-year college degree by 2009, and that just 48 percent of city high school graduates enroll in college — below the national average of 69 percent.

Bruce Melgary, the executive director of the Lenfest Foundation, said after the event that the city has lots of data "but doesn’t have the capability to do anything with it." This grant will help with that, he said, especially tracking "how a student who went to high school X does in college Y or college Z, and what does that mean in terms of how the system might change." A lot of the research will focus on Community College of Philadelphia, where more city’s public high school graduates wind up than anywhere else.

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