Former Pittsburgh schools leader offers free tuition



During his tenure as superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, Mark Roosevelt was sometimes criticized for spending money too liberally. Now, as president of Antioch College in Yellow Spring, Ohio, he's giving it away.

On Jan. 17, Antioch announced that the small liberal arts college would provide four-year, full scholarships for every student who enrolls in the school over the next three years. Since tuition at Antioch is currently $26,500, that makes each complete scholarship worth a total of $106,000.

"We don't want economics to be an impediment to a high-quality liberal arts education," Roosevelt said in a statement posted on Antioch's website. "By providing four year, full-tuition scholarships, we make attending Antioch College a realistic option for the best and brightest students, regardless of their family's economic situation."

How is this possible?

Antioch is trying to resurrect itself, after being closed down in 2008 due to dwindling enrollment and other problems. And to reestablish itself, it needs students. So the school is using its $25 million endowment to help lure college applicants to the tiny Ohio campus. (If you're wooed by this offer, the admission deadline is Feb. 15.)

That might sound odd for a school that has closed four times in its history. After the school's 2008 shutdown, an alumni group purchased all of the school's assets the next year to help rebuild the college. In need of a reform-minded leader, the school hired Roosevelt in December 2010 -- as the city schools superintendent was five years into a controversial overhaul of Pittsburgh's school district.

The college reopened in October, with a roster of 35 freshmen. Those students are being taught by a staff of a half-dozen teachers.

Roosevelt, who left Pittsburgh with a mix of high and low marks on his report card, earned lots of praise for shuttering dozens of schools during his tenure, efforts his supporters claimed helped shore up the district's finances. But since his abrupt departure at the end of 2010, some have questioned whether his reforms were really so fiscally responsible.

Roosevelt's successor, Linda Lane, is now battling a $68 million budget deficit. While many blame that on cuts in support from the federal government, Roosevelt's critics argue that his reforms added to the fiscal dilemma, contending that the reforms were destined to bankrupt the district in the long run. And Roosevelt hit the road, they say, right before the budget problems blew up.

But while it's debatable what Roosevelt did to the district's finances, even his critics must admit that he helped keep lots of Pittsburgh families from taking on debt to send their children to college. In 2007, Roosevelt joined Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to establish the Pittsburgh Promise, which offers high school graduates up to $40,000 in scholarship money if they maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.

Roosevelt, apparently, has a thing for scholarships. And now educators in two states better hope they work.

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