Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF)

Organizational mission statement (50 words or less): 

The Philadelphia Education Fund’s mission is to create  equitable access to opportunities for students by providing resources and expertise that build paths to college  and career success. We serve our mission by providing programming and consulting services, in college  preparation and STEM education, to students, teachers, and schools.

Brief description of organization (include key programs and recent achievements, 100 words or less):

PEF  supports the college and career advising needs of low-income students attending Philadelphia’s lowest graduation rate high schools by: (1) Delivering on-site, one-on-one advising services directly to nearly 4,000  ninth through twelfth graders across 16 Philadelphia high schools; (2) Awarding $500,000 annually in gap-filling, last-dollar college scholarships through our Scholars endowment; (3) Consulting with schools to support the implementation of college-going cultures; (4) Equipping high school students with online resources, through our PhillyGoes2College online portal; and (5) Expanding access to STEM education through our 450-member  Philadelphia STEM Ecosystem, and our 10-year partnership with GSK on the STEM Equity Collective.


Population served (25 words or less):

Our students are diverse (48% African American; 33% Latino; 11% Asian;  6% other); from low-income families (99%) earning an average household income of just $17,500.


Geographic area(s) served: 

Philadelphia County

In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is your organization’s work primarily? 


Does the organization already receive support from or otherwise engage life science companies? If so, how? 

PEF  enjoys the support of the following life sciences companies. This Spring, we launched a 10-year, $10M  partnership with GSK on the STEM Equity Collective, an initiative designed to improve upon the current  underrepresentation of women and communities of color in STEM education and STEM careers.  AmerisourceBergen is represented on our board of directors through its Vice President of Corporate  Citizenship, Susan Lorenz Fisher. David Baker, CEO of Vallon Pharmaceuticals, currently sits on the PEF board  and has served as Board Chair and Treasurer, in the past. And, this week we got a nice surprise. We received a  $939 donation from the employees of Adaptimmmune.

Please outline existing volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any current virtual volunteer events:


All of PEF’s existing volunteer opportunities may be  delivered in-person or virtually. Our offerings fall into two broad categories: (1) Teaching and Coaching  Roles and (2) Professional Consulting and Administrative Support. Teaching and Coaching Roles include  opportunities, such as mentoring one of our Philadelphia Scholars; delivering a workshop or keynote  address, on topics such as essay writing, interviewing skills, workplace competencies, etc.; and “in classroom” presentations on STEM careers and related college pathways. Professional Consulting and  Administrative Support opportunities include delivering professional and talent development workshops  for PEF staff; advising on strategic planning and execution; assisting with in-person and/or virtual event  direction, logistics and design; coordinating a supply drive for students in need of technology, college  dorm supplies, interview clothes and motivating incentives; advising on digital products currently under  development; and consulting on program branding, positioning and marketing.

Please outline proposed or potential future volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any planned virtual volunteer events:  

Philadelphia ranks 92nd out of 100 cities in educational attainment. This year, with the pandemic, we saw a seven percent decrease in the  number of students applying through FAFSA for financial aid. And, we are still waiting to learn whether,  given the correlation between FAFSA completion and college enrollment, there was an equal drop off in  the number of graduating seniors who enrolled in college. We offer up this preamble, as a way to  underscore how important it is for us – as a city – to message to students the wealth of resources available to them should they wish to pursue their college ambitions. One way, we at PEF have been  wanting to build that awareness is through a fun college-themed Philly 5K, whether it’s run virtual or in person. We would welcome a group of volunteers interested in envisioning, launching, and building upon  this idea over the next several years. Another awareness-building initiative that would benefit from  volunteer energy and thinking, would be our PhillyGoes2College Pop Up Experiences – an effort that links  our virtual platform with in-person, drop-in model, coaching at community events and youth-serving  venues. Volunteers would be needed to support the planning and design, as well as to deliver coaching  services. It may be possible to design these pop-up experiences as virtual events, though in-person is  preferable.


Please signify the type of support you are requesting from Life Science Cares:


Operations/General Support


Project Title:


College and Career Counseling for Underserved Students in Philadelphia


Total Project Budget (if applicable):


Total Organization Budget: $3,161,867


Requested Amount:




In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is the requested project’s work?




Description of Need (What is the issue you plan to address? What are the demographics and number of people you plan to serve, if applicable?):  

The Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF) offers a full complement of programs and services intended to drive college and career success for students, engage communities in the effort, and support the capacity of under-resourced schools. PEF’s work is critical in a city where 1 in 4 residents live in poverty and just 69% of students graduate from high school (vs. 85% nationally).

PEF sees education as the key to lifting youth from low-income, under-resourced communities out of poverty – for good. The supporting evidence to this viewpoint is clear: In 2018, Pew Charitable Trusts reported 4% of Philadelphia’s bachelor’s degree recipients, age 25 and older, lived in poverty compared to 13% of residents who were high school graduates. Additional data shows that a high school degree can increase lifetime earnings by 29% and even partial college attendance can increase earnings by 20% (College Board, 2019).  

PEF works to put high-quality career exposure and college advising services within reach of every low-income Philadelphia high school student.  By the numbers, we provide educational support services for 5,300 under-resourced Philadelphia youth, particularly those who attend economically distressed, high-minority, low-graduation rate public high schools. The vast majority (99%) of PEF students are from low-income households, qualifying for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. Nearly half are African American (48%), and most are students of color (33% Latino, 11% Asian, 6% Multi-Racial). Most are female (55%), and 90% will be the first in their families to attend college, meaning that without PEF, they may not otherwise have adult mentors in their personal lives to offer guidance from their own college experience.

Specific Activities (Please detail what activities you intend to undertake as a result of the grant. Include information about service delivery and timelines.):


The Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF) is a comprehensive provider of college and career advising services targeting low-income, first generation college goers.  Our work spans the gamut from school-embedded one-on-one counseling, to college-culture consulting to schools, to college scholarship and retention programming, to career exposure experiences, and to online and app-based solutions.

With the support of Life Sciences Cares, via a general operating support grant, PEF intends to undertake the following set of activities, during School Year 2021 which extends from September 2020 to June 2021.  It is worth noting, these activities are currently being delivered by PEF despite the pandemic.  As early as March 2020, in to the present, PEF began innovating strategies to support students despite the pivot to virtual classrooms and distance learning.  Specifically, we developed online platforms, social media engagement tools, FAQs on COVID and college admissions, and gamification and incentives-based models designed to drive student engagement during a period that witnessed drops in school attendance, high school graduation, college application, and college enrollment rates.

We will continue to apply whatever strategies are needed, whether COVID or not, in order to deliver on the following activities:

- Embedding our College Access Program (CAP) in low graduation rate (70%) Philadelphia public high schools. CAP is a four-year college exposure and advising program that embeds a full-time CAP Coordinator on-site at each of five Philadelphia high schools. CAP serves 1,270 at-risk students annually through 1:1 advising and individual, group and school-wide college prep workshops and support services, helping more than 90% of students graduate high school, apply, and attend college. Since 1990, PEF has helped more than 100,000 Philadelphia students apply, secure financial aid, and enter college at rates 20-30% higher than their peers. In the 2018-2019 year, 91% of CAP seniors graduated from high school, 93% completed the FAFSA, 80% applied to college, and 98% were accepted, receiving approximately $5.2 million in scholarships. Without PEF, approximately 39% would complete the FAFSA, 52% would apply to college, and 65% would graduate.

- Teaching schools how to create and sustain a college-going and career-success culture. Our Philadelphia Postsecondary Success Program consults with four (4) Philadelphia public schools in the design and implementation of school-wide strategies and activities that are predictive of high school completion and college readiness. With the help of this program, Philadelphia’s Paul Robeson High School – a school identified for closure by the School District of Philadelphia in 2012 – increased its graduation rate from 72.9% in 2011 to 98.5% in 2016, and was named “Most Improved High School” in Philadelphia in 2017. Last year, the school’s four-year graduation rate remained at 98.5%.

- Democratizing access to college counseling by expanding services beyond school walls. School district funding shortages mean college counseling is not fully available in every Philadelphia public high school, but thanks to PEF’s free PhillyGoes2College initiative (, it is available to every Philadelphia high school student. PhillyGoes2College’s online portal offers students, families and community members information on free college advising resources and events, such as deadlines, scholarships, and financial aid workshops. In addition to what is online, the program provides college counseling through complementary in-person pop-up experiences across the city. Last year, PhillyGoes2College engaged 12,000 individuals.

- Mitigating financial barriers to a college education. Our Philadelphia Scholars Program awards Philadelphia public school graduates with last-dollar college scholarships to address financial barriers that arise as students progress through college, along with persistence support such as 1:1 mentoring, peer networks, and social-emotional support. In the past year, PEF awarded $548,000 in scholarships to more than 100 Scholars; and 90% of participating college seniors graduated from college.

- Increasing access to STEM education through programming delivered through PEF’s McKinney Center for STEM Education. This Center, launched in 2009, strengthens the capacity of local schools and teachers to expose and animate student interests in high-growth STEM careers.


Evaluation (What are the anticipated results? What methods will you use to measure your progress? What does success look like?):

With the support of a general operating support grant from Life Sciences Cares, PEF anticipates being able to deliver the following results this year:   
- 1,270 high school students will participate in 1:1 advising, professional skill development, financial literacy training, and exposure to the breadth of opportunities that exist post high school,
- 1,320 high school seniors across 16 schools will attend college preparatory workshops,
- $500,000 in gap-filling last-dollar college scholarships will be awarded to low-income, first generation to college students,
- 12,000 students from around the city will access a robust online portal with college resources, information, and counseling,
- 50 educators and administrators will be equipped with the tools to create and sustain a college-going and career-success culture in their high schools by helping to design and implement school-wide strategies that are predictive of high school completion and college readiness, and
- 200 educators will participate in professional development workshops and opportunities with the McKinney Center for STEM Education.

To measure our progress towards these results, PEF staff capture data on detailed Excel spreadsheets that track activities, engagements, and progress towards our desired outputs.  In addition, through our Blumen database, we track longer-term outcomes such as rates of high school completion, college application, college enrollment and college graduation.

PEF is committed to delivering research and evidence-based programs.  And, our staff is trained in employing data and root cause analysis to facilitate continuous improvement.

PEF will be successful when all young people in Philadelphia have the skills and opportunity to succeed in college and career. And, thanks to our interventions for Philadelphia students, once armed with knowledge, the decision of whether or not to go to college is a decision of an intention not default.   

Does this project already have support from life science companies? If so, what is the nature of that support? Our work in college and career advising includes a special focus on STEM careers and education.  Given this focus, PEF is fortunate to be supported by a few life science companies interested in our work in STEM. 

This Spring, GSK announced its partnership with PEF on the Philadelphia STEM Equity Collaborative (PSEC), a ten-year initiative focused on increasing the number of underrepresented populations accessing careers in STEM.  GSK provides PEF with financial and volunteer support for this initiative. 

This November, AmerisourceBergen became a new donor to PEF through Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.

And, currently, PEF is partnering with Monell Chemical Senses Center to recruit high school students for their unique apprenticeship program that exposes students to bench science.



Is there any other information not captured elsewhere regarding your organization, project, program or initiatives that you believe will help the Life Science Cares team in evaluating your request?

PEF was founded in 1984 as a collaborative partnership between the School District of Philadelphia, interested and committed corporations, and educators.   That spirit of collaboration remains a key element of PEF’s culture and practice.  We offer some current examples of our collaborative efforts below:

- PEF serves as the backbone organization of the Philadelphia STEM Ecosystem, a collective impact strategy aimed at expanding access to STEM education across the region. It includes 400+ members from the public, private, and social sectors.  The work of the STEM Ecosystem led to GSK’s investment in the Regional STEM Equity Collective.

- PEF partners with companies, like Johnson Controls and Clearway Energy to deliver customized curriculum that exposes students help strengthen their education projects within the School District of Philadelphia.

- PEF’s partnership with the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) is our most significant. We have, in the past, been contracted by the SDP to deliver seminars through its Community Engagement Office and, currently we deliver GEAR UP – a multi-year college advising program delivered in 12 high schools. Also, we secure third party funding to resource five SDP schools with on-site College Access Centers and to deliver our Philadelphia Postsecondary Success Program.   And, the SDP provides PEF with dedicated office space for the College Access Centers we operate in five high schools.

Finally, PEF facilitates collaboration by regularly convening education stakeholders in constructive dialogue through our Education First Compact, a monthly roundtable that draws 900 attendees a year. These sessions are a place for the education community to come together, have conversations, and create partnerships.


How does your organization or program differentiate from other organizations doing similar work? Are you executing or proposing to executive an innovation in program or service?

PEF is one of 65 college access providers in the City of Philadelphia; and, as we understand it, the only one offering both direct services and systems-level solutions to addressing inequitable access to college advising support for Philadelphia public high school students. 

PEF stands out from other college access organizations, because we serve comprehensive neighborhood high schools, not select high schools. And, we serve only low-graduation rate high schools, where as other programs operate in better performing high schools. Additionally, many college access programs seek to serve high potential students with exemplary grades or test scores. We focus on students in the academic middle, who may not realize college is a possibility. To participate in our programs, students need only articulate a desire to go to college. 

Finally, most college access programs in Philadelphia serve students through an afterschool, out-of-school time model.  Of those few that serve students during the school day, PEF is the only one embedded in five or more schools.  In addition, we offer complementary programs for students via our online platform (PhillyGoes2College), last dollar scholarship programs and career-connected learning initiatives. Our comprehensive services ensure students are given equal access to high-quality college advising services, as would be true for those attending the area’s high-performing and special admission schools. As a result, we are the leading organization in Philadelphia providing career exposure and college advising.