DOWNTOWN — Calling it a "bargain" with Chicago Public Schools students, the mayor announced a program Wednesday to extend free-ride scholarships to top graduates attending the seven City Colleges of Chicago.
"What you learn is what you earn," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a news conference at the Chicago Cultural Center announcing the Star Scholarship program. He added that it would provide a "ticket to the middle class" to many low-income, but high-achieving students.
"We owe it to the kids, and we owe it to the taxpayers," Emanuel said, adding that "cost will not be the prohibitive factor" for CPS grads hoping to go on to college.
The scholarships will give free rides at the seven City Colleges for CPS students graduating with a 3.0 grade-point average who place into college-level math and English and who enroll in one of the Guided Pathways to Success programs.
Emanuel said that, in previous decades, a high-school diploma was often deemed "sufficient" to join the workforce, but that now three-quarters of all jobs require at least two years of college study, as found in associate degrees at junior colleges.
The program is expected to be operational in time for the 2015-16 school year starting a year from this fall.
Emanuel said the City Colleges had often been considered "an afterthought," but that he was intent on making their graduates respected by local businesses eager to hire them. To that end, he added, some 115 local businesses have joined in supervising curriculums at the colleges, which have grown increasingly specialized — for instance with Malcolm X College taking the lead in health care to complement the medical facilities across the Eisenhower Expressway on the West Side.
The six other City Colleges are Richard J. Daley, Kennedy-King, Olive-Harvey, Harry S. Truman, Harold Washington and Wilbur Wright. They currently employ 5,700 faculty members tending to 115,000 students.
City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman estimated that 2,000 CPS grads annually meet the specifications of the program, but don't go on to college. She put the cost of the program at $2 million in its first year.
Applicants will be required to apply for federal and state financial grants, but then the colleges will provide waivers for tuition, fees and books to make up the difference for up to three years of study.
Emanuel and Hyman both emphasized that students who go on to a four-year college or university would save $40,000 or more on the cost of a bachelor's degree. In that way, Emanuel said, Star Scholarships also was designed to address the hot-button issue of student debt.
Emanuel granted that some some states, like Tennessee, make junior colleges free for residents, but said he preferred including the GPA and college-readiness requirements, adding, "I'm a firm believer in opportunity and responsibility."
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