This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Mayor Michael Nutter is adamant that he is "not taking one step back" from his goals of doubling the percentage of city residents with college degrees and bringing the city’s high school graduation rate to 80 percent.
But a second straight year of deep state cuts to higher education proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett would mean even steeper challenges for students and families, he said.
"We’re undermining our own efforts here in the state by driving up tuition costs," Nutter said during an interview with the Notebook/NewsWorks.
During the mayor’s first term, the city made some progress on his goals. The District’s high school graduation rate inched over 60 percent.
But the city’s numbers for college graduation have been basically flat since 2009, according to the latest annual progress report from the Philadelphia Council for College and Career Success.
And new data from the National Student Clearinghouse show that nearly two of three students who started 9th grade here in 2005 have never enrolled in any kind of postsecondary institution. The system is starkly stratified, with students in many of Philadelphia’s neighborhood comprehensive high schools twice as likely to drop out as to enroll in college.
"We are not satisfied," said Nutter.
It’s not just cuts to higher education that are threatening to further damage the city’s already badly broken college pipeline.
The past year’s slashing of hundreds of millions of dollars from the District’s budget has meant the loss of everything from school counselors to free college visits for kids.
The mayor hopes those holes in the city’s pipeline to college will in part be plugged through volunteerism and charity.
"Just because some of the public funding may go away doesn’t mean those valued and needed services have to completely go away."
Everyone from philanthropic organizations to businesses to block captains will have to help, said the mayor.
"This is that moment where everyone has an opportunity to step up."
The mayor’s education office is trying to do its part, he said.
Through its Graduation Coach Campaign, over 3,000 Philadelphians – including Nutter and his wife – have been trained to mentor youth through the college process.
Through the city’s Returning to Learning Program, 12 area colleges and universities now offer a tuition discount to help public employees go back to college.
The mayor has been pushing a skeptical City Council to approve a change in how city properties are assessed. His plan to align real estate taxes with actual values would generate $94 million for the cash-strapped District.
"To keep schools running, to keep teachers working, to keep programs and services, those dollars are critically important," said Nutter.
Even if those funds do come through, however, they will have to go toward plugging a portion of what would otherwise be a $300 million budget gap. The mayor said what’s really needed is more support programming, more Advanced Placement courses, more art and music, more school libraries.
Building a functional college pipeline, rather than patching what we have now, would require a fairer way of funding public education, said Nutter.
"I’m not saying money is everything, but it usually beats whatever is in second place," he said.
"And our kids in Philadelphia are being shortchanged."