HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago announced Monday that it is launching a major initiative to help Chicago students apply for and enroll in college — offering to help the students graduate debt-free if they attend the Hyde Park university.
To encourage more students from Chicago’s public and private schools to attend college, the UChicago Promise initiative will offer students grants as financial aid, as opposed to government or private loans. The university will also waive the $75 application fee for Chicago students.
“Students do not find themselves applying and entering the schools they are capable of enrolling in,” said university President Robert Zimmer during the announcement at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave. “The college admissions process is quite complicated and they do not have the tools to navigate that complexity and are not aware of the financial resources available to them.”
“If a student gets to the one-yard line, the university has its doors open, not shut,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, praising the new program.
The university will also expand its outreach to guidance counselors, students and their families who are struggling with college applications and financial aid forms.
“You have to get into the application game so early now and once you’re in, you have to also get into the financial game,” said Melissa Roderick of the university’s Chicago Consortium on School Research, which helped create the program. “Kids don’t know what the FAFSA is or how to fill it out. … Most of these problems are very fixable.”
Roderick said many bright Chicago high school students were scared off by the cost of college before financial aid, and that sticker shock means that too many eligible students don’t compete for a spot at the nation’s top universities.
“The payoff from a selective college is so high for these kids,” Roderick said. “I keep seeing these kids over and over that should have been on their way to Harvard.”
It is unclear how much the university is investing in getting more Chicago high school students in college or how the program will be administered. The university declined to provide financial projections prior to publication and details about the specifics of the types of grants provided to replace loans was unavailable.