The Philadelphia School District yesterday received a financial boost to help stem its high dropout rate.

The district will get $400,000 from AT&T Pennsylvania to expand programs supporting at-risk students at Germantown and Sayre High Schools, and to help eighth graders who feed into those schools stay enrolled.

About half of city students who start ninth grade leave before graduation, according to a district estimate of 2008 figures.

The University of Pennsylvania and Mayor Nutter's office will also get AT&T funds to keep students from dropping out and boost workforce readiness.

That's good news to Tyrik Thorn, a Sayre senior who's already taken advantage of SAT prep classes, internships, and other support services.

"These are wonderful programs here at Sayre," said Thorn, who has collected six college acceptances. "If it wasn't for these programs I wouldn't be as college-bound as I am today."

AT&T is giving close to $800,000 in all - $400,000 to the school district; $300,000 to Penn to expand a college- access and career-readiness program for Sayre freshmen; $40,000 more to Penn for a SAT and college-prep program for city high school juniors and seniors; and $35,000 to the mayor's office for a new program providing students with "graduation coaches."

Investing in education is important work, said AT&T president Michael Schweder.

"When we look at the high technology jobs we have as an employer, we need to be able to fill those with American workers," Schweder said, adding that he's concerned not only about dropouts but also those who earn diplomas but "are not proficient enough to fill the jobs that we need to keep in America and grow here in this country."

AT&T wanted to add to efforts that help fix those problems, Schweder said at a news conference.

Also released yesterday was a report calculating the fiscal impact of the city's dropout rate.

High school graduates will earn almost double what dropouts make over their lifetimes - $871,000 compared with $457,000 - and a college graduate will make more than four times more than a dropout, or $2.05 million, according to the report, which was released by the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board.

Dropouts have much higher rates of unemployment and pay less in taxes. They receive more government aid, and are jailed more often than those with high school diplomas or more.

Nutter has made reducing the dropout rate by half a chief goal of his administration.

"We will never be satisfied until we drive that dropout rate down and our graduation up," Nutter said.

A 2006 Johns Hopkins University study of Philadelphia's dropout crisis found that between 48 percent and 54 percent of the students who started ninth grade between 2000 and 2005 graduated in four years.

The rates improved to between 61 percent and 63 percent after six years. The rest dropped out without earning diplomas.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com.