News Column

Pittsburgh Promise Wants Hispanic Immigrants

Sept. 27, 2012

Joe Smydo

Pittsburgh skyline. Photo by Zach Rudison, Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
Pittsburgh skyline. Photo by Zach Rudison, Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

Predicting that its $40,000 college scholarships will be a powerful draw, The Pittsburgh Promise today will announce a campaign to attract Hispanic immigrants to the city and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Saleem Ghubril, the Promise's executive director, said the goal will be to recruit immigrants now living in cities within a 300-mile radius of Pittsburgh. The announcement will be made at the Promise's annual report to the community, scheduled for 10 a.m. at the South Side offices of American Eagle Outfitters.

The initiative could help the Promise address the thorny challenge of boosting school district enrollment. It also complements recent efforts by other groups, including Vibrant Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, to boost the city's foreign-born population.

While scholarships will be the linchpin of the marketing effort, Mr. Ghubril said, the Promise and its civic partners will stress Pittsburgh's other selling points as they try to woo immigrants away from cities such as Lancaster and Baltimore. He said some immigrants may be willing to relocate because of better employment prospects in Pittsburgh.

"We have jobs," Mr. Ghubril said. "We have a lower cost of living in Pittsburgh than other major cities. We have decent housing stock in certain neighborhoods, and then we have the opportunity to provide a $40,000 scholarship per child. We think there's a good case to be made here."

He said he believes that it will be easier to recruit Hispanic immigrants already in the United States than to market the program in other countries. Hispanics represent 16.7 percent of the nation's population but only 2.4 percent of Pittsburgh's, according to American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mr. Ghubril said the recruitment will target entrepreneurs, professionals and blue-collar workers. Professionals might be recruited through groups such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, he said, and representatives of Pittsburgh's Hispanic community will be sent on recruiting missions to other cities.

More than 30 cities have Promise-style scholarship programs, said Michelle Miller-Adams, associate professor of political science at Grand Valley State University and research fellow at W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich. While most use scholarships to try to boost city population and school enrollment, she said, Pittsburgh may be the first to target immigrants specifically.

The effort also will involve a local advertising campaign, aimed at persuading Pittsburghers to open their arms to newcomers. Mr. Ghubril said the Promise will run a series of television spots introducing Pittsburghers to Hispanics already living in and contributing to the city.

"They're not depleting our resources," he said, addressing concerns expressed about immigrants in some cities.

The Promise provides scholarships to graduates of city high schools and certain charter schools, regardless of the students' economic status. The amount of each student's scholarship varies according to his length of time in city schools and higher-education expenses. Applicants must meet academic and attendance standards in high school.

So far, more than 3,200 students have received scholarships, largely funded with a $100 million challenge grant from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Because of Promise requirements, Mr. Ghubril said, only legal immigrants would be eligible for scholarships.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and then-school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt announced the Promise in December 2006 as a way to recruit families to the city, retain those already living here and boost school district enrollment. The district has not yet released enrollment for 2012-13, but numbers have continued falling in recent years, despite the opportunity for Promise scholarships.

Mr. Ghubril said marketing the Promise to Hispanics could help to shore up the city population and school district enrollment. Beyond that, he said, a robust immigrant community also adds to a city's vibrancy and economic power.

While Pittsburgh may be the first to use a scholarship program as a recruitment tool, a handful of cities -- among them Baltimore, Detroit and Dayton, Ohio -- have received national and international attention for taking other measures to attract immigrants from various countries. In Baltimore, immigration is a key part of the city's plan to grow its population by 10,000 families over the next decade.

Pittsburgh, once a center of European immigration, now has a relatively small foreign-born population. For a couple years, groups such as Vibrant Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have been working to bring more immigrants here.

Those efforts and the Promise's venture "go hand in hand," Victor Diaz, the chamber's special projects director, said. Representatives of Vibrant Pittsburgh and the chamber will be at the Promise event today.

Gary Rotstein contributed.



Source: (c)2012 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by MCT Information Services


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