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City Colleges Set to Expand Free Classes to More Low-Income Residents

By Wendell Hutson | March 27, 2013 6:22am | Updated on March 27, 2013 1:25pm

CHICAGO — Felicia Bates hopes she soon will qualify to take free or low-cost classes at City Colleges of Chicago after the schools agreed this week to provide them to thousands of additional low-income residents who live in subsidized housing.

Under an agreement approved Monday by the board of commissioners for the Chicago Housing Authority, residents who take advantage of the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program will be able to take free or low-cost courses at any city college through at least March 31, 2014. About 36,000 families in the city use the vouchers.

Bates, who lives in a women's shelter in Englewood and is finishing a GED at Kennedy-King College, is on the waiting list for a voucher.

"Once I am done I would like to take some classes to become a CNA [certified nurse assistant] or something in the health care industry since that is where are the jobs will be in the future," said the 33-year-old single mother of two sons.

"I know I still need to get into public housing to make all this work, but for now my long-term plan is to get my GED and my own place," she added.

The partnership, which CHA officials said would begin Monday, is an upgrade of a previous deal it formed with City Colleges in 2005 to provide education and training for CHA residents, according to Mary Howard, executive vice president of CHA Resident Services.

The purpose of the partnership, which still needs to be approved by the Board of Trustees for City Colleges, is to create more educational opportunities for low-income residents, said Jeremy Gantz, a school spokesman. The program's expansion will begin pending City Colleges' trustee approval, which is expected.

The cost of administering the program will be split between the CHA and City Colleges.

"As part of the intergovernmental agreement, the CHA pays for the cost of tuition, placement exams and other eligible educational expenses beyond financial aid," Gantz said. "The CHA also pays for the salaries of two full-time CCC staff coordinators. CCC pays for the full array of student services it offers to all students, which include academic advising, wellness centers and career planning and placement, among other services."

The expanded partnership allows the CHA to continue its goal of helping people become independent, said Howard.

"We are excited to partner with the City Colleges of Chicago as we work to help prepare residents to be successful in the global marketplace on their road to self-sufficiency," she said.