|Penn Law Dean Michael A. Fitts in|
midst of animated discussion with
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter,
who sees increased college graduation
rates as vital to the city’s future.
During a lecture sponsored in March by the Institute for Law and Economics, Nutter elaborated on his multifaceted agenda to strengthen the city’s relationship with the education sector and establish its reputation as an academic center like Boston.
A Wharton graduate, Nutter visualizes the city of Philadelphia as a $4 billion corporation with 24,000 employees that provides services like trash removal and recreation centers. “Driving a city and making it work is really about running a large enterprise in the service industry,” he said, noting that the mayor has responsibilities similar to a chief executive officer and that the city council functions as a board of directors.
If the corporation fails to deliver, customers, or in this case, residents, will find another company to fulfill their needs, he explained.
To keep residents satisfied and to attract new ones, Nutter plans to capitalize on Philadelphia’s two biggest economic drivers, education and medicine. Both sectors share traits that give Philadelphia an advantage over other cities, he said. Unlike the financial services industries in New York and North Carolina, they provide some protection from the economic downturn because they are generally stable, and continue to grow.
Nutter’s priorities include increasing high school graduation rates, and improving the Philadelphia school district’s partnerships with colleges and universities. College graduation rates also need to increase he said, noting that 80,000 people in the city work force didn’t finish college, and only 18 percent of people over 25 have a bachelor’s degree, even though the city is home to 92 colleges and universities.
For Nutter, the link between an educated work force and crime is clear because “people who can take care of themselves, who can read and write are self-sustaining and less likely to be involved in crime in the first place.” Educated people also make themselves more valuable to employers and attract new companies because employers like operating in a knowledge-rich place, he said.
To promote higher education, Nutter is creating a model in the city government for corporations to follow. Paying tuition upfront is a major barrier for potential students.
Nutter has revamped the education policy for city employees so that the city now pays tuition at enrollment instead of providing reimbursement after completion of the course.
Nutter is also advocating for colleges to get involved in the community, to work with high schools and to make changes in their curriculums to close the gap between what students learn in high school and what they need to know to succeed in college.
Nutter has been meeting with university presidents to discuss the state of endowments and recruitment opportunities. He has appointed a liaison in the commerce department to communicate with universities about further development.
As for the city’s finances, the outlook is stormy with Nutter forecasting another $1 billion budget deficit for the city in five years. But Nutter is optimistic. “I have the same vision today that I did on January 7, 2008,” he said, alluding to his inauguration. His priorities remain transparency in government operations, safety, and an education system that works.