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A university, business and non-profit honored for encouraging degree completion

A university, business and non-profit are honored for encouraging students to enroll in college and graduate.

Independence Blue Cross launched a support program to help its workers without a college degree to get one.

The Philadelphia Education Fund worked with four city high schools to set a college-going culture from the day students arrive, and now more students are going to college.

And the University of Delaware's associate degree program based at a community college offers a gateway to students who may not be quite ready for the rigor of the main campus in Newark.

All three entities will be recognized Thursday morning at an award ceremony for their programs to boost college enrollment and graduation.

The inaugural awards come from Talent Greater Philly, a coalition of more than 20 organizations including the University of Pennsylvania, Mayor Nutter's office of education and the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

Talent Greater Philly was created in 2009 by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's CEO Council for Growth, a leadership organization made up of CEOs from some of the area's largest employers.

"The whole idea is to try to shine a light on very effective practices and to facilitate more collaboration," said Josh Sevin, the economy league's managing director for regional engagement.

Talent Greater Philly also will announce that it has received a $200,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation to support ongoing efforts.

Sevin said the group solicited nominations for the awards and chose the winners from a field of 13.

In 2011, Blue Cross formed a partnership with Graduate!Philadelphia, a local non-profit. The non-profit offers on-site college advising to employees who want to go for two- or four-year degrees.

About 400 of the company's 7,500 employees have received help. Of those, 11 have graduated, 98 are enrolled and 38 are on track to enroll this academic year, the company said.

Peter Jones, director of learning and organizational development at Blue Cross, said the program started because of a request from Mayor Nutter's office to help boost the percentage of city residents with college degrees - one of Nutter's goals.

"Then we took it upon ourselves to put a program like this in place," Jones said. "We need well-rounded employees who have skills around critical thinking, problem solving and thinking analytically."

Employees across the company from customer service to marketing and finance have participated, Jones said.

The Philadelphia Education Fund in 2009 began a partnership with Kensington Business High, Roxborough High, Kensington CAPA High and Ben Franklin High, aimed at increasing the percentage of students who go to college.

The groups worked on establishing a "college-going system and culture," in the buildings, including involving students and parents in planning for college early on, explained Darren Spielman, the fund's president and CEO.

Also, in a process called "instructional rounds," teachers from local colleges were brought together with high school teachers. The high school teachers learned what is expected of freshmen, and college instructors learned what students were being taught — or not taught — in high school.

By 2012, Spielman said, the percentage of seniors enrolling in college had increased: From eight percent to 25 percent at Kensington Business; from 22 to 48 percent at Roxborough; from 23 to 37 percent at Kensington CAPA; and from 35 to 47 percent at Ben Franklin.

Bartram, Robeson and Olney high schools were added to the program this year, he said.

The University of Delaware established its associate in arts program in 2004. Classes are taught by University of Delaware professors but based at three campuses of the Delaware Technical Community College. Students get smaller class size, reduced tuition and extra assistance in math and writing.

"Of our graduates, 93 percent go on to their junior year at the University of Delaware," said Jack Bartley, faculty director of the program.

The graduation rate has improved from 46 percent to 63 percent, the university said, and enrollment has grown to 860 students.

"It's becoming quite popular," he said. "It's a really nice transition from high school to a larger campus setting."