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Eastern forming ‘junior college’ in Philadelphia

Eastern’s undergraduate program will be one college larger this fall, as the School for Social Change opens a community college-like two-year institution in urban Philadelphia.

The first year’s pilot program, funded in part by the sale of the Beethoven manuscript found at the Palmer Seminary last year, will include about 100 students. It will be a partnership between Eastern and the Center for Urban Theological Studies and Philadelphia’s churches.

The project is an effort to educate more people with Eastern’s particular brand of scholarship, combining “Faith, Reason and Justice,” President David Black said.

“It’s two years of Eastern for families who can’t possibly collect the money to attend at Eastern,” he said.

Classes will be taught by fully qualified instructors, including possibly professors from the St. Davids campus. After two years, students will receive associates’ degrees.

“It’s not Eastern Light, it’s Eastern in the city,” Vice President for Public Relations Leonard Jamison said. “Many students would be here except for the cost.”

Students of the college will have complete access to the St. Davids campus for use of the library and facilities and for playing on the sports teams, Jamison said.

“It is largely our inner-city, poorer young people who are not succeeding in college,” Provost David Fraser said.

To address the larger issues of why some of those students don’t succeed, the program is intended to provide the support to prepare them for both the social and academic pressures of a four-year college.

Many of these students are the ones who could most change the world, Black said, but right now they are not coming to Eastern.

The Community College of Philadelphia brings a non-faith-based education to over 40,000 people. These are the students the new college will be aimed toward, Black said.

From the beginning, this project has been closely connected with urban churches. The idea was promoted in part by urban pastors concerned about losing their young people, at school or on the street, Fraser said.

“We have 35 pastors who have signed onto the program,” Jamison said. Ideally, the program will eventually expand and classes will be held on site in some of their churches, he said.

Initially, classes will be held primarily at Eastern’s location at 10th and Spring Garden streets in Philadelphia. The School for Social Change holds classes

there at night.

The program will be part of the School for Social Change, under Dean Vivian Nix-Early. Jeneen Barlow will direct the program.

Eastern already has college-level classes for urban high school students with the Cross Boundaries program and plans in the works for a Gates Foundation-funded urban charter school that will be an early-college program. With the new program, Eastern will have everything from classes for ninth-graders to master’s degrees, Jamison said.

“This is all part and parcel of the funnel from the city to St. Davids or the GPS,” he said.

The administration hopes that many students who would not be able to pay for Eastern’s traditional undergraduate education for four years will be willing to do so for their last two years of college.

“It’s about getting the youth of Philadelphia engaged early, to transform not only their lives but others’ as well,” Jamison said.

There is already talk of expanding the program from Philadelphia to other areas in the region, he said. And there is hope that this will work well enough to spread across the country.

“We just hope that this model takes off, and could be replicated in other cities by other churches and colleges,” Black said.

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