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Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: Philadelphia Futures’ Sponsor-A-Scholar Alumni Survey Report Issued

Philadelphia Futures conducts a survey to assess students’ outcomes post-college and measure long-term impact of its work. 

Since 1990, Philadelphia Futures has supported the college aspirations of Philadelphia's low-income, first-generation-to-college students through its centerpiece program, Sponsor-A-Scholar (SAS.) With an average college graduation rate of 60% and a college graduation rate as high as 77% for individual classes, the Program’s results have far exceeded the 14% national college graduation rate for students from the lowest income quartile and are comparable to the 60% college graduation rate for students from high socioeconomic backgrounds. 

To look at students’ lives beyond college graduation and measure the long-term impact of its work, Philadelphia Futures engaged Elena Tamanas Ragusa Consulting to conduct a survey of Sponsor-A-Scholar alumni. For purposes of the survey, an alum was defined as a Program participant in the high school classes of 1994 through 2011 who completed his/her associate degree, bachelor's degree or received a certificate from a post-secondary program by 2015.  

With a response rate of 46%, the survey results yielded significant insights into the life and career trajectories of the students who received Sponsor-A-Scholar's long-term, individualized support and resources through high school and college.

“The response rate for this survey was noteworthy, especially given the length of time since many alums had participated in the program. Importantly, the respondents are representative, across relevant demographics, of those who have historically participated in SAS. Therefore, these findings help understand the experiences of not only the survey respondents but of the typical SAS alumnus,” said Elena Ragusa, Principal, Elena Tamanas Ragusa Consulting.

Survey questions touched on topics such as employment, salary and benefits, educational attainment, home ownership and personal satisfaction. 

Survey results demonstrated that SAS alumni have achieved educational success beyond their undergraduate degrees; are employed in careers related to their fields of study; and are doing well financially. Equally important, they are satisfied with their lives and are hopeful about their futures. 

Key findings of the Sponsor-A-Scholar Alumni Survey included:

  •  43% of respondents earned at least one degree or certification beyond their undergraduate education;
  • Only 3% are unemployed and looking for work, on par with unemployment levels of individuals with bachelor’s degree in the general population.
  • 51% of all respondents’ households earned at least $50,000 in 2015;
  • 85% of respondents reported having employee-sponsored health insurance; 72% of respondents reported having a retirement plan;
  • Of the respondents who graduated college in 2011 or earlier, 47% are homeowners;
  • 92% of respondents reported being satisfied with their lives;
  • 97% feel hopeful about their future; and
  • 98% of respondents indicated that the SAS Program had a positive impact on their educational achievement.

In addition to quantitative data, the survey generated eleven pages of comments. Recurring themes included the positive impact that mentors had on the lives of Sponsor-A-Scholar students, with many relationships continuing post-college; the critical importance of sponsorship funds; the impact of Sponsor-A-Scholar’s services on students’ preparation for college and careers; and a feeling of gratitude for the support they received.

“As I prepare to pass the mantle of leadership, it was important to me that we conduct this survey to understand the extent to which students, who participated in the Sponsor-A-Scholar Program, are able to escape the strangling limitations of poverty,” said Joan Mazzotti, Executive Director of Philadelphia Futures. “The results exceeded our expectations. This Report is, in many ways, my legacy.”