More than two years ago, Mayor Michael Nutter laid out his three major inaugural goals: he would reduce the city’s crime by 30 to 50 percent, double the number of college graduates in Philadelphia and cut the city’s then-45-percent high-school drop out rate in half.
Despite the budget constraints that have eclipsed many of Nutter’s planned initiatives, Penn officials and political analysts say Nutter’s real accomplishment has been changing the tenor of university relationships, making City Hall much more accessible and open to College Hall.
Initial goals Nutter’s track record as a city councilman and his 2007 campaign platform led to the expectation that he would accomplish these goals by “maximizing the impact of the colleges and universities” in Philadelphia, said Dawn Maglicco-Deitch, director of Penn’s Office of Government and Community Affairs.
College students — particularly the Penn Democrats — also played an important role in Nutter’s victory. The group endorsed him in the 2007 Democratic primary and lent volunteers to the campaign, said College senior and former Penn Democrats President Lauren Burdette.
The economic crisis, however, forced Nutter to focus primarily on dealing with the city’s budget deficit, St. Joseph’s University history professor and political analyst Randall Miller said.
As a consequence, the educational changes of the Nutter administration thus far have been “more about style than substance,” Miller explained. But he added that the mayor truly has made an effort to open up to the private sector — including universities — on solving common problems.
As a Penn graduate himself, Nutter recognizes the importance of letting university experts help craft city policy.
Several high-ranking members of Nutter’s administration — including chief of staff Clarence Armbrister and Donald Schwarz, the deputy mayor for health and opportunity — were Penn faculty or alumni.
Penn President Amy Gutmann acknowledged the University’s “good working relationship” with City Hall.
“We help when we have expertise to give,” she said.
Gutmann is one of about 25 college and university presidents from the Philadelphia area who meet with Nutter on a regular basis to discuss the major problems facing the city.
The topics of discussion at these meetings — which usually happen about once every six months — range from ways to improve community development around the city’s colleges to cultural development, according to Lori Shorr, Nutter’s chief education officer.
Colleges are “a big economic engine for the city,” Shorr said.
And in return, Penn has done “just about everything colleges and universities have been asked to do” to help with Nutter’s educational initiatives, said Jeffrey Cooper, vice president for government and community relations.
Cooper is also part of another city task force, the Council on College and Career Success. The group is comprised of experts in higher education, non-profit organizations and business. It meets regularly to discuss, and often fund, Nutter’s educational initiatives.
Miller said regular meetings with university presidents is “Nutter’s style,” not that of his predecessor, John Street.
Nutter’s “style,” Miller said, involves creating external committees or groups that help him “look at problems and make systematic policy.”
But more than these specific groups, Nutter has helped make the communication necessary for “day-to-day business issues” much easier to deal with, Cooper said, especially in terms of the zoning and permit issues that Penn must resolve as it expands.
Involving the community
Although economic problems persist, Nutter’s new PhillyGoes2College initiative — an effort to prepare local high school students for college — has brought higher education to the forefront of his policy priorities.
The new college office in City Hall, which Barbara Mattleman, who heads the initiative, called “the first of its kind,” will provide information and reference materials as well as topic-centered workshops, such as filling out FAFSA forms or applying for loans.
But according to Cooper, Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships already provides many of the services that Nutter’s college office will offer.
The Netter Center’s college readiness programs provide mentoring on everything from filling out applications to taking the SAT, Cooper said.
Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice is also helping the city’s students. The school sponsors a handful of city employees per year to attend its master’s of social work program, according to SP2 Dean Richard Gelles.
Sponsoring city employees to study at SP2 is the school’s way of helping “improve the quality of the workforce” in the city, Gelles said.
Overall, the mayor’s success on key education initiatives has yet to be seen. But regardless, Nutter “has had great success and Penn has been an active partner in helping him advance his goals,” Maglicco-Deitch said.Comments powered by Disqus
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