Saturday, July 11, 2009

What Pittsburgh Can Promise

This Pittsburgh Promise is a good idea. But the program can't deliver talent retention. Plug the brain drain. Ramit Plushnick-Masti's article on the Promise makes the policy mismatch clear:

The Promise, aimed at boosting academics and reversing the exodus from Pittsburgh and its public schools, is fashioned after similar efforts in Kalamazoo, Mich. and El Dorado, Ark. It's also hoped that the Promise students will return to Pittsburgh, as John Tokarski plans, when they graduate. ...

... A family moved from a suburb about 50 miles from Pittsburgh so their 2-year-old daughter can attend the public schools, beginning in kindergarten, making her eligible for the full scholarship.

Better city public schools can attract students from the suburbs. They can't, and won't, reverse the exodus. Again, another passage from the article:

With the collapse of the steel industry 30 years ago, the population of Pittsburgh and its public schools plummeted as people fled in search of jobs. The city's population of 424,000 in 1980 plunged to just over 311,000 in 2007; the school district lost nearly one-third of its students from 1988 to 2008.

And enrollment is expected to keep dropping , from some 26,600 today to 22,000 by 2015. But that trend appears to be slowing, thanks to the Promise.

Who left? The affluent, the educated and the young, said Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise. Who stayed? Lower-income families, the elderly and the less-educated.

"The affluent, the educated and the young." The most geographically mobile. The most likely to leave. The Pittsburgh Promise will provide the means to get out for "lower-income families" and "the less-educated." The Promise will promote out-migration from the city among populations typically stuck in a neighborhood with few prospects for gainful employment. And that's great news.

On the other side of the coin, the Promise will attract the affluent and the educated. The Promise will promote in-migration to the city among populations typically hopping from one neighborhood to the next in search of better opportunities for their children. And that's great news.

If Pittsburgh wants its Promise graduates to stick around, then the offer should be only for local community colleges and trade schools. However, that won't bring folks in from the burbs. The ad hoc inclusion of PA private colleges is very telling. Graduates from private post-secondary institutions are the least likely to stay in-state. A better idea would be to open it up to any private school, regardless of location. Pittsburgh would draw in even more families, from all over the country.


Unknown said...

The educated populations may have fled the city of PGH back in the 70s and 80s... but today the city is the hub of educated adults in metro PGH... ranking 4th amongst cities over 250,000 for adults 24-35 with postgraduate degrees (behind Boston, SF, DC). By comparison, educational attainment for young adults in the rest of the metro is average.

Stephen Gross said...

I suspect it's too early to tell what kind of affect this program will have. We will need to give it ten years or so to see. Presumably it is designed to incentivize two distinct kinds of behavior: it aims to retain pgh area families who were planning on leaving, and it aims to tip the balance for families already considering a move to pgh. In both cases it is possible that it will be effective, but it depends on the mix of other influences on those actors.

Jim Russell said...

Presumably it is designed to incentivize two distinct kinds of behavior: it aims to retain pgh area families who were planning on leaving, and it aims to tip the balance for families already considering a move to pgh.

I doubt the program would keep families from leaving the region. As for families moving into the region, some of them might choose the city instead of the suburbs.

One of these days I need to plow through the review of the Kalamazoo Promise.

Paz said...

As a graduate of one of the fine Catholic secondary institutions in the city, I've been curious as to how the Promise will affect our patterns. Granted, 70% of our population (including me) came in to school from the suburbs, but Central and Oakland have always been very much a fabric of the urban education scene, and I wonder how they will be affected.