The Pittsburgh Promise has provided millions in college scholarships to city high-school graduates, but 20 percent of eligible students aren’t even applying for one, and not every kid aims for a career requiring a four-year degree.

What can be done for those young people?

Saleem Ghubril, who heads the Promise, says the organization has teamed with local vocational-class experts to make selected offerings available to Pittsburgh Public School students. The new program will allow them to get the credits, certifications and licenses needed to secure a good job right after graduation.

“Less than 40 percent of the jobs in the Pittsburgh area, and there are a lot of them, require a four-year degree,” Ghubril points out, “But more than 60 percent require highly specialized technical training.”

For those who don’t take advantage of the Promise, “a high school diploma is just not enough … so while a four-year degree may not be necessary, a kid’s future with just a high-school diploma looks pretty bleak.”

Beginning this fall, tenth-, eleventh- and twelfth-grade students in vocational/technical programs will have new college-level classes available from the Community College of Allegheny County and the Energy Innovation Center, which will open at the former Connelley Vocational School and Letche School.

They’ll be getting part of their Promise scholarship early so they can attend the new courses and earn a possible 24 post-secondary credits and four certifications, gain driver’s education and get a Pennsylvania drivers’ license by the end of high school. And if the program whets their appetite for further education, they can always apply for the rest of their Promise scholarship, too.

The first three programs being piloted during this school year are health care, the culinary arts and HVAC, with manufacturing, energy and information technology to be added next fall.

“At a minimum,” says Ghubril, “we hope this will engage more kids with their education early, resulting in more and earlier graduation from high school, and resulting in higher employment rates for those who don’t pursue higher education, filling more jobs in the Pittsburgh market with Pittsburgh talent.”

Also helping to design the program were the Sprout Fund and the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board.

Marty Levine

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press...