First class of city-funded 'Catto scholars' starts semester at Community College of Philadelphia

Community College of Philadelphia building
Community College of Philadelphia building Photo credit Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — When Community College of Philadelphia begins a new semester on Tuesday, it will welcome its first class of “Catto scholars.” The scholarship, named for a 19th century civil rights leader, is a city-funded effort to increase access to higher education.

Darrel Claiborne has a plan: two years at community college then on to Temple University for nursing. He figures it’s his best chance to provide a better life for his two sons, but the margin on his investment is razor thin.

“You never know what’s going to happen. Your car could break down or you might have a hard month where you’re not going to be able to afford food, especially trying to focus on school,” he said.

So he was thrilled to be selected for the brand-new Catto Scholarship, which provides last dollar tuition, books, food, transportation and housing support — a CCP survey showed those are the expenses that force about 3,000 students a year to drop out.

Mayor Jim Kenney said keeping them in school is good for everyone.

“The more people with a college education, the more people with technical skills, the more successful the city will be,” he said.

He originally proposed a $63 million program. Then the pandemic hit.

The mayor said the program was too important to eliminate, though the budget was reduced to $47 million, which is still enough for more than 1,200 students a year.

Students like Claiborne and Chelsea Hammond. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. Now, at 30, she hopes to be the first in her family to graduate from college.

She says this is not the first time the city has come through for her.

"I used to struggle with addiction, and I’ve been in recovery for a while now," she said. "Being in Philadelphia, there’s been a lot of resources for me. And now, going to school, I’d really like to give back, to help other people and give back to the community as well."

She says she hopes to be a paralegal and maybe a lawyer some day.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio