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The Octavius Catto Scholarship announced its first cohort of recipients in January 2021. Photo courtesy of CCP.
The Octavius Catto Scholarship announced its first cohort of recipients in January 2021. Photo courtesy of CCP.

Five months on: A progress report for CCP’s Octavius Catto Scholarship

The partnership between the Community College of Philadelphia and the city was launched in November 2020.

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On Jan. 21, 2021, the Community College of Philadelphia welcomed its first class of Octavius Catto scholars for the Spring 2021 semester. Back then, the initial cohort sat at 79 students, but that number grew to 132 for the semester. 

While still down from the 500 initially set by the city, given the impact of COVID-19, Dr. Aubria Nance, the associate director of the Catto Scholarship at CCP, still called the rollout of the program “excellent.”

She went on to say that the idea of “free college,” is something that has been talked about in the U.S. for some time, but not actually implemented.

“But tuition is not enough, it’s just not,” said Nance. “You can pay students’ tuition, but they still have other basic needs.”

The Catto scholarship not only provides students with free tuition, but also funding for food, transportation to school and books via a monthly $1,500 stipend.

For first-semester nursing student and Catto recipient Darrel Claiborne, the scholarship was what allowed him to finish this past semester.

In addition to the monthly stipend to help with finances, Claiborne also took advantage of CCP’s Single Stop Program, which helped him get rental assistance at one point in the semester.

Early on, in February, Claiborne and his two young kids caught COVID-19, putting him out of work for an extended period of time and unable to pay many of his bills.

Through the Catto scholarship’s one-on-one advising, which requires monthly check-ins, Claiborne’s coach put him in contact with the Single Stop Program to get help.

“I was really struggling, so they helped me with paying rent and a couple other things I needed help with to keep me going until I could get back on my feet,” he said.

Before coming to CCP, Claiborne worked as a licensed Dialysis Technician at DaVita. There, he learned not only about the jump in pay for those with a nursing degree, but also the expansion of opportunities. 

“I took CCP as that first step,” said Claiborne.

Seeing the impact of COVID-19 also motivated him to want to be in a field that was of utmost importance to society.

“I always wanted to have a job where I could help people, so definitely with us going through the pandemic right now, it’s like the perfect opportunity,” said Claiborne.

His ultimate future goal is to become an emergency room nurse, potentially at the University of Pennsylvania.

According to Nance, the immediate goal of the Catto scholarship is to come out of the pandemic and hit the previous goal set by the city of 500 students in the program, and up.

In the long-term, she also sees the scholarship as a model of how CCP itself can structure the experiences for its students going forward.

“That we can scale the program up. We might not be able to scale the tuition up, but at least the support,” said Nance. “Making sure that students have somebody who knows who they are, who they communicate with and are proactively reaching out to them to figure out what’s going.”

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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