The Octavius Catto Scholarship

The Octavius Catto Scholarship

Octavius Catto Scholarship

Free College and the Support You Need to Succeed

The Octavius Catto scholarship is an important new anti-poverty initiative designed to put more Philadelphians on the path to success at Community College of Philadelphia. The scholarship aims to make the transformative power of education available to students by providing funding and additional supports.

Combining last-dollar funding with special wrap-around support services, the scholarship will address obstacles like tuition and fees as well as burdens that hit many Philadelphians—especially those living in poverty—particularly hard, including costs associated with food, transportation and books.

Eligible full-time students will receive last-dollar funding for up to three years, enhanced coaching and advising, and support for food, transportation and books.

Catto Scholars will receive both tuition support as well as many academic resources and services, such as: 

  • Support toward the cost of books, food and transportation 
  • Career coaches and advisors to help them stay on track 
  • Connection to existing resources like affordable housing, child care and other services

Who is eligible for the Catto Scholarship?

Students who meet the eligibility criteria will be eligible for all supports of the Catto Scholarship (last-dollar tuition, basic needs support, enhanced academic and career coaching, and enhanced connection to services). Once you have applied to the College and completed FAFSA, if you have further questions, please contact us at

To become a Catto Scholar, you must be one of the following:

  • A new, first-time college student
  • A transfer student who has earned a total of 30 credits or less at another college/university
  • A former CCP student with a 2.0 GPA, in good academic standing, who is returning to the College to continue your studies after not taking classes for at least one year

To fully qualify, Catto scholars must:

  • Have a high school diploma, Commonwealth Diploma or GED
  • Attend Community College of Philadelphia full time (12+ credits per term)
  • Be a Philadelphia resident for at least 12 months
  • Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) each year* and document an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $8,000 or less
  • Enter college ready or one level below college ready in both English and Math

* Accommodations will be made for undocumented students. Complete the CollegeBoard EFC calculator. Send a screenshot of the Results page to for review, and please include your Student ID number (your J#).


How to Apply

If you are ready to take advantage of this scholarship opportunity, your first step is to apply to Community College of Philadelphia. All admission applications will be reviewed for eligibility for the Octavius Catto Scholarship. If it appears you meet the eligibility requirements, the College will send you an email outlining next steps after we have had the opportunity to review your completed admission application. Please note that filing a FAFSA is an eligibility requirement, so if you have not already done so, please submit your FAFSA.

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Why is it important for the City to invest in this type of scholarship?

The Octavius Catto Scholarship will make the transformative power of education accessible to graduates of a high school in Philadelphia as well as those residents who have earned a comparable credential. Combining last-dollar funding with special wrap-around support services, the scholarship will address obstacles like tuition and fees as well as burdens that hit many Philadelphians — especially those living in poverty — particularly hard, including costs associated with books, food, and transportation. In addition, the city will work with CCP to better connect students to benefits access, quality child care and housing supports.

What will the Catto Scholarship include?

Eligible new, first-time students who are enrolled full-time are eligible to receive:

  • Funding to cover the remainder of their tuition and fees after federal and state funding and other aid are applied. Funding is available to those students for up to three years at Community College of Philadelphia
  • $1,500 to meet needs for food, transportation and books
  • Support from a team of academic advisors, coaches, navigators and other staff who are dedicated to making sure that students meet their goals and stay on track
  • Connection to city services such as benefits access, quality child care and housing supports

What is a first-time college student?

A first-time college student is a student enrolling in any college or technical school for the first time. A technical school, also known as a trade school, is a postsecondary institution that provides training for a specific job in a skilled trade. Anyone who took classes any college or technical school is not a first-time college student.

What if I am not college ready or one level below college ready in English and/or Math?

The purpose of student placement at Community College of Philadelphia in English and Math courses is to place students in the courses most appropriate to their level of preparation. Learn more about how you can satisfy placement. If you are not college ready or one level below college ready, you may still qualify for the Catto scholarship through our Brush-up for Catto sessions, which will help you prepare to re-take the College’s placement test in English and/or Math, and increase your chances of either qualifying for the Catto Scholarship or even raising your scores to start at a college-ready level. What are the benefits of improving your placement? 

  • Those with Math 016 placement would need at least a placement level of Math 017 to qualify for the Catto Scholarship.
  • Having higher placement in English and/or Math will reduce the number of classes you'd need to take and the amount of time it will take for you to graduate. 

So that you don't miss out on this opportunity, applicants who do not meet the placement levels are invited to participate in a totally FREE Brush-up for Catto Scholars session to improve your score so that you can place into a higher level when you start college, reduce the amount of time required to complete your degree, and qualify for the Catto Scholarship! Interested? Complete our sign-up form and we'll be in touch.

Are current and part-time CCP students eligible to be Catto Scholars?

You must be a first-time to college, full-time student to qualify to be a Catto Scholar. CCP has other scholarships and resources available to support current and part-time students in their academic journey.

What must all students do to maintain eligibility as Catto Scholars?

Students must maintain full-time enrollment (at least 12 credits per semester) and maintain a 2.0 GPA at the end of each year. They must also complete annual FAFSA documentation. As they proceed through CCP, students must continue to meet milestones of credit attainment (20 credits in year one; 42 by the end of year two) and maintain Philadelphia residency.

What does the Catto Scholarship cost the city?

Over the next five years, the city projects that $54M will be spent on the Catto Scholarship. In addition to the city’s investment in the Catto Scholarship, the city is also investing an additional $16.3M over the next five years in CCP to support additional operating needs. These investments both in the Catto Scholarship and in CCP more globally are in addition to the city’s existing $36.1M annual contribution to CCP, bringing the city’s total investment in CCP up to about $244M over the Five Year Plan. The city’s investment in CCP in FY21 marks a 22% increase from FY20.

How many students will receive the Catto Scholarship?

Over the five years of the scholarship, the city expects nearly 4,500 students to benefit. This is about 1,000 students per year with FY21 serving about 500 students in Spring 2021.

What challenges do Community College of Philadelphia students overcome to reach graduation?

Community College of Philadelphia students face unique and systemic challenges that may prevent them from reaching their educational goals. Those issues include challenges to their financial security, child care, transportation, housing security and food security.

  • The 2019 #RealCollege Survey and Report indicated that 70 percent of community college student respondents had experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity, or homelessness in the previous year, and 39 percent reported having been both food and housing insecure in the previous year
  • Since CCP’s Single Stop program was launched, thousands of students have received services, with an average of 3,050 students served each year for the past six years. Some of the most common services have been financial education, public benefit applications, tax prep and filings, and legal consultations

What demographic of students will benefit from this initiative (as of Spring 2021)?

At Community College of Philadelphia, the student population mirrors the city population in many ways. Approximately 72 percent are people of color, including but not limited to: 43 percent who identify as Black/African American, 15 percent who identify as Latinx or Hispanic, and 9 percent who identify as Asian or Pacific Islanders. Approximately 70 percent of CCP’s students are eligible for Federal Pell grant funding.

How does this investment in community college relate to the Mayor’s poverty agenda?

Mayor Kenney believes that to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty we must invest and do more to provide quality education for all, from Pre-K to K-12 to College. The data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is clear that education is a clear predictor of poverty. Nationally, in 2017, the poverty rate for working people with a high school diploma was 6.2 percent, almost twice as high as working people with an associate degree (3.2 percent), and over four times higher than working people with a bachelor’s degree (1.5 percent). This relationship between education and poverty is consistent for Black, Hispanic, and White students alike. As we look to recover from this unprecedented economic plummet, we need to ensure that we are equitably ensuring that all Philadelphians have the educational opportunities to secure quality jobs.

How important is post-secondary education in 2020?

Community College of Philadelphia students are united by an understanding that a postsecondary credential is essential to their future success. A certificate or associate degree can change the course of their lives and have a generational impact on their income. The post-Covid-19 economy is projecting a faster pace of automation and need for workforce upskilling and having a post-secondary credential will be essential for Philadelphians to thrive. Research conducted at Georgetown University indicates that an associate degree holder earns $1.7 million over a lifetime, higher than a high school graduate. The Octavius Catto Scholarship is an economic recovery strategy that ensures more equitable access to postsecondary degree programs, which are critical to lifting families out of poverty.

Chelsea Hammond
Idris Washington

Octavius Catto: Leadership for the Ages

Octavius Catto dedicated his life to equal rights movements, working to have the voices of African Americans heard.

Well-educated and a natural leader, Catto possessed numerous talents, but realized the detrimental barriers racism posed to him and all African-Americans. As a supporter of the Union cause and the Lincoln Administration, Catto raised one of the first volunteer companies in Pennsylvania, under the authority of the Emancipation Proclamation, and served as a soldier.

Aligning with the Republican Party to promote his efforts to achieve equal rights, he was a voting advocate and raised awareness about elections through speeches and working with various organizations. He helped form the National Equal Rights League in 1864 and was elected secretary of the Pennsylvania State Equal Rights League chapter. In addition to becoming a national civil rights leader, Catto was a teacher and school administrator, member of The Franklin Institute and a baseball player. In all forums, Catto championed the cause of equal rights.

Pennsylvania ratified the 15th Amendment in 1870, giving African-American men the right to vote. A large African-American voter turnout in favor of Republicans was expected for the 1871 elections, threatening Democratic control of local posts.

Protests and murder marked the weeks until Election Day on October 10, 1871. Some policemen who were Democratic supporters did nothing to stop the injustice against African-Americans. On Election Day, Catto passed two white men who were part of a group responsible for perpetrating violence and intimidating voters in his African- American neighborhood. One of the men turned and shot Catto, without saying a word, in the crowded street. The killer fled, and at his trial six years later, he was acquitted of the murder.