Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday put a $2 million first-year price tag on his offer of free City Colleges tuition to Chicago Public School students who graduate with at least a 3.0 grade-point average — which could benefit undocumented Hispanic students the most.
That’s because Emanuel’s estimate is based on an assumption that 85 percent of the CPS grads who receive City Colleges Star scholarships also will get federal Pell grants, a common form of government financial aid prohibited to undocumented students.
Before confirming at a news conference at the Cultural Center that the offer of free tuition, books and school fees — about $11,000 per student for a two-year degree — would be open to undocumented students, Emanuel made sure everyone was listening.
“Ready? Si. Yes. It will. . . . It’s part of an overall strategy. . . . Chicago is gonna be the most immigrant-friendly city. It always has been. We have to understand how important that is to who we are and what we can become,” he said.
“This summer, we’ve allowed Dreamers [children of undocumented immigrants] to apply for all our summer jobs and for internships in city government. Just the other day, we said to the undocumented and also to Dreamers, ‘You can get a library card without any other information’ because we don’t want your access to information to be prohibited by an antiquated law.’ So we’ve made sure this was applicable. If you’re a CPS student, you can apply and be part of this.”
City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman said the system can easily absorb both the financial burden as well as the influx of 500 to 1,000 more first-year students, though a college union representative called the plan a ploy to raise graduation rates by luring in higher-performing students.
Hyman noted that City Colleges has “shaved $10 million off” the cost of its five-year capital plan through efficiencies tied to the system’s colleges-to-career makeover — for example, consolidating five nursing programs into one at Malcolm X College.
“As we get more efficient and consolidate, I see further savings,” Hyman said.
With 4,500 CPS students now involved in “dual enrollment” programs at City Colleges, Hyman projected further savings from the “$35 million to $40 million” annual cost of remedial education.
The cost of a two-year associate’s degree is pegged at roughly $11,000 per student, including tuition, books and fees.
If every one of the 2,000 CPS students the mayor says has a grade point average of 3.0 or better who do not currently go on to college took advantage of the city’s offer, that would cost $22 million. That does not take into account the qualifying students already planning to go to City Colleges.
The mayor’s estimate assumes that the program will start slowly with about a third of the approximately 3,000 CPS grads who will qualify — and that 85 percent of them will have their costs 100 percent covered by federal Pell grants.
As for how the City Colleges system can handle an influx of students, Hyman said that’s no problem, either.
“Today, my enrollment averages around 115,000. I can look 10 years back and our enrollment was as high as 127,000. So, I welcome those 2,000 students. Yes, I can absorb that,” she said.
“And now that we’ve launched a student GPS and a student pathways, we’ve gotten much more smarter on our class sizes and how we schedule classes because students are now on relevant pathways and not just wandering through the system taking credits that may not ever lead to anything,” Hyman said.
The head of the faculty union at Harold Washington College said Wednesday he sees the proposal as “a back-door attempt to significantly curtail” the number of students who need remedial coursework and, as a result, improve the City Colleges’ graduation rates.
Hector Reyes, chair of the Harold Washington College Chapter, American Federation of Teachers Local 1600, said he thinks the latest proposal got its genesis back in 2010 when Hyman first suggested that City Colleges reconsider their open-enrollment policy as part of the colleges’ so-called reinvention.
Reyes said he is worried that the City Colleges are straying from their original mission as the last recourse for a diverse yet needy group of first-generation and underserved youths to get college educations.
He fears these students will become prey to for-profit colleges, which have been criticized for high-cost student loans and high loan-default rates.
“That makes me feel sick,” he said.