Our Story

Graduate! Philadelphia's mission is to increase the number of adults with college degrees in the Greater Philadelphia region.

In Philadelphia alone, there are more than 70,000 adults who have at least one year's worth of college credits but have not completed their degree. Regionally, there are close to 300,000.

This is not a problem that is unique to Philadelphia, many cities face similar challenges. However, our solution to it is. Nowhere in the country, to the best of our knowledge, have major stakeholders come together to promote college degree attainment and provide the services and supports needed to complete a degree.

Our reasoning is simple. Increasing the number of individuals with college degrees returns significant economic and social benefits to the region, its residents, and its businesses.

At an individual level, a college degree opens doors to well-paying careers — many of which require a degree — and an average increase in lifelong earnings potential of $1 million.

From a business standpoint, increasing the number of working adults with college degrees improves productivity and performance, as adults can easily apply their knowledge and skills directly and immediately to their work. Further, it strengthens the region's talent pool and provides current and prospective businesses with their most valuable asset — a skilled and talented workforce.

Ultimately, the success of these efforts will benefit the entire region. It will allow more residents and businesses to participate and prosper in the economy, and will make the Greater Philadelphia region a more attractive and viable place to do business.

To increase the number of adults with college degrees, Graduate! Philadelphia works on three fronts:
Raising awareness of the issues and leading a regional, multi-partner collaborative approach to solutions 
Influencing policy and systems change
Developing and piloting innovative programs, such as the Graduate! Philadelphia oureach center

Graduate! Philadelphia was founded in 2005 as a response to the shortage of adults with college degrees in the Greater Philadelphia region. Co-founders Sallie Glickman, CEO of the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board, David Thornburgh, then Executive Director of the Economy League, and Hadass Sheffer brought together the perspectives of workforce development, economic development, and higher education in what was then considered a groundbreaking approach to increasing regional college attainment levels. Graduate! Philadelphia operated as a joint initiative of the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board and the United Way of Southeastern PA until 2011 when it incorporated as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization, The Graduate! Network, Inc.  Other sustaining partnerships along the way included the the Greater Philadelphia Economy League and the Philadelphia Education Fund's College Access Program in the Gallery Mall.

Graduate! Philadelphia is now operated as the flagship program of The Graduate! Network, Inc. and continues to work to inrease the number of adults in the Philadelphia region who realize their goal of completing their college degree.  Graduate! Philadelphia partners with employers, labor unions, colleges and universities, economic development and workforce development organizations, community and faith based organizations, and the thousands of Comebackers in our region. 

Todate, Graduate! Philadelphia has provided individual advising and guidance services to more than 3,500 Comebackers.  1,900 have returned to college and their retention rates are over 90%.  250 have graduated and some are continuing to a graduate degree.

The Graduate! Network supports adult college completion initiatives in other regions

The Graduate! Network, Inc. coordinates a co-learning network of regional collaborations focusing on adult college completion.  Affiliates may have different governance structures and local partnerships, but we are united in our commitment to the Graduate! regional, multi-stakeholder approach to increasing college attainment for adults.  Our affiliates engage the Comebackers—adult students, higher education, employers, community builders, economic development, workforce systems, organized labor, government, faith-based organizations, social service organizations, and any other organization or group that acts to remove barriers and promote college success for adults, resulting in degree completion.  Our current affiliates are: Graduate!Ct, GraduateMemphis, and Complete The Degree-Chicago.

OUR MISSION is to increase the number of adults completing college, by engaging business, higher education, government, organized labor, workforce and economic development, community building organizations, social service providers, and college graduates to align existing resources, remove barriers, and create new pathways for adults to complete a college degree. 

OUR VISION is that every adult who aspires to earn a college degree has access to the resources and supports they need to start and complete a college degree: 

Every adult is connected to an individual who knows how to go to and through college.
Understanding the value of a degree and knowing how to succeed in college are ubiquitous within all communities, across socio economic groups. 
Adults have affordable college options at accredited institutions.
The practice of investing in adults completing college is mainstream in talent, workforce, and economic development strategies.  

To join the Network, please contact Hadass Sheffer, President, The Graduate! Network. Email 

Download the Graduate! Philadelphia report "The Challenge to Complete"
Watch our video to learn more about Graduate! Philadelphia

Read about Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's education vision

"Shaping an Educated City: Two-Year Report on the Mayor's Education Goals, January 2008 - December 2009"  (Graduate! Philadelphia is mentioned on page 10.)