Five Philadelphia university presidents gathered in one auditorium at the Barnes Foundation last Thursday to discuss how their institutions relate to the city.

Sponsored by media organization The Philadelphia Citizen, the discussion included Penn President Amy Gutmann and the presidents of Drexel University, Temple University, Community College of Philadelphia and Thomas Jefferson University.

It was the first time all these presidents came together in a public forum to discuss what the schools could do for Philadelphia, given that only 27.4 percent of the city’s residents have a bachelor’s degree and only 64 percent of graduates of Philadelphia-area universities stay in the city.

During the panel, all the presidents stressed the value of keeping college graduates in the city.

Gutmann asked audience members to raise their hands if they spent most of their lives outside of Philadelphia. When nearly every hand went up in the room, Gutmann said “this happens because a lot of people feel like they’re being left out of the American Dream.”

The panel started off with a discussion of how universities can merge the local and global in a world of rising populism.

Donald Generals, president of the Community College of Philadelphia, mentioned the college’s English as a Second Language programs for international students.

“We are serving an international community in this area,” he said.

Other points of discussion included the city’s low high school graduation rates, health disparities between different Philadelphia neighborhoods and changes each university has made to be more inclusive.

Stephen Klako, president of Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health, said the school is changing its admissions process for medical school to become more holistic. Klako said they hope to change the fact that only 4 percent of matriculating medical school students are African American males.

Ariel Pechter, manager of the office space where The Philadelphia Citizen works, said that Gutmann’s message of “looking at the things that [Philadelphia] is doing well and not looking at [Philadelphia] as a tier two city” resonated with her.

Executive Editor and Co-Executive Director of The Philadelphia Citizen Roxanne Patel Shepelavy helped organize the event.

She said she “hoped to get a little bit of back-and-forth about what universities should be doing to include the city around them and what cities should do to propel that work.”

Maddy Weber, who works at a communications firm that assists universities, said she appreciated the “feeling of positivity about Philadelphia despite that they opened with this dirge of figures that are really depressing.”

“It seems that [the presidents] are in a position to make change and that they are willing to work together, which is exciting,” Weber said.

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