By Deborah Bailey, Special to the AFRO

Summer 2018 marks the beginning of a new academic opportunity for Baltimore City Public School (BCPS) graduates. More than 500 high school graduates comprise the inaugural class of the Mayor’s Scholars Program.

Close to 540 students and their families descended on the Baltimore City Community College main campus on Liberty Hgts., in West Baltimore for the Mayor’s Scholars summer orientation this week. The Mayor’s Scholars initiative implemented by Mayor Catherine Pugh allows participants to enroll at Baltimore City Community College tuition free, while pursuing an Associate Degree or completing one of BCCC’s workforce development programs.

The inaugural class of the Mayor’s Scholars program and their families assembled at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) for summer orientation this week. (Photo Credit: Deborah Bailey)

“Not only are we making Baltimore City Community College free, we want to make sure these students have every opportunity to be successful,” Mayor Pugh said during her weekly press briefing.  “This is a movement that is happening across the country and we are leading it in this state,” she said.

Additionally, 350 of the Mayor’s Scholars are also enrolled in the city’s Youth Works Program; 58 participants are immigrants with scholarships offered jointly through the Mayor’s Youth Program and CASA of Baltimore, according to Pugh.

Retired BCCC President Gordon F. May worked with a committee from BCPS, led by former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, chair of BCCC’s board of directors (and president of the University of Baltimore) and the Mayor’s Office, to develop the program. Pugh publicly announced the initiative in December 2017 as one of the city’s violence reduction programs and a part of her administration’s effort to find positive alternatives for Baltimore’s youth.

“Cost should never be a barrier to any student who aspires to a college degree or job training,” said Dr. May. “BCCC is pleased to partner with Mayor Pugh on the Mayor’s Scholars Program to make tuition-free education at BCCC a reality for all Baltimore City high school graduates.

As a proud anchor institution in West Baltimore, BCCC is fully committed to the education and career development of our students,” May added.

After earning an Associate Degree at BCCC, Mayor’s Scholars enrollees can attend Coppin State University through the recently launched Finish 4 Free program. Beginning this fall, Coppin State is offering qualified BCCC graduates (2018 and beyond) who also graduated from a Baltimore City Public School, the opportunity to enroll tuition free for two years.

“This is an opportunity for our students to become a part of the economic fabric of our city as they continue to move forward with their education.  In this way, we are clearing pathways for an entire generation of youth from the City of Baltimore,” Pugh said.

Pugh added that the long-range goal of the program is to transform Baltimore’s communities. “Our ultimate goal is to break the cycle of poverty and despair in many of our neighborhoods and provide our city students with opportunities previously unavailable to their older siblings, parents, and grandparents.”