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Five more colleges sweeten the pot for Chicago Star Scholars

Five more colleges have joined the Chicago Star Scholarship program announced in October 2014 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign to help parents put their kids through college without going to “the poor house” is getting another boost, courtesy of five more Chicago colleges.

Nearly three months after the University of Illinois at Chicago sweetened the pot for at least 250 winners of the Chicago Star Scholarship, Emanuel delivered on his promise to expand the program.

The University of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute, North Park University, Northeastern Illinois and Columbia College joined the parade with merit- and needs-based offers similar to or sweeter than the one made by UIC.

The U. of C. offered to provide full tuition scholarships — ​​up to $50,000-a-year — to Chicago Star students admitted to its undergraduate college.

Northeastern has offered guaranteed admission and a total of $250,000 to cover tuition, fees and textbooks for 20 Chicago Star Scholars each year.

And Columbia is offering annual scholarship support totaling $8,000 per student, along with a designated adviser to help them succeed.

The Chicago Star Scholarship is Emanuel’s pre-election plan to offer two years of free City Colleges tuition to students who graduate from Chicago Public high schools with a B-average and demonstrate “completion-ready ability” by scoring at least 17 on both the math and English sections of the ACT. Eligible students must also enroll in one of City Colleges’ “structured, relevant pathways” toward an associates degree.

The Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola, DePaul, Roosevelt, Governors State and National Louis have already stepped up to help nearly 1,000 first-year Chicago Star Scholars pursue their dreams of getting a four-year degree without breaking the bank for their parents or starting their careers deeply in debt.

“By breaking down financial barriers to a college education, the Chicago Star Scholarship is opening up more pathways to the middle-class for hardworking Chicago students. By expanding this partnership, we are taking our city’s commitment to make college more affordable to the next level,” Emanuel said in a press release.

“We must continue working to ensure that a college education is within the reach of every hardworking Chicago student, regardless of their ability to pay.”

City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman noted that a high school diploma “doesn’t cut it anymore” in a city where far too many students don’t even get that far. They drop out of Chicago Public highs schools.

“These partnerships will significantly reduce the cost of attaining a bachelor’s degree that employers in many industries increasingly want to see on an applicant’s resume,” Hyman said in a statement.

UIC signed on in late August with guaranteed admission and at least $5,000 — $2,500 a year for two years’ tuition toward a bachelor’s degree to any Chicago Star scholar who transfers in after graduating from City Colleges with an associate’s degree and a 3.0 average. That’s in addition to any other financial aid.

Chancellor Michael Amiridis acknowledged on that day that the average UIC student pays $17,000 in tuition and fees alone. That’s not counting the cost of books, supplies and room and board, if they’re not commuting from home.

At that rate, UIC’s offer is less than 15 percent of the tuition bill.

Pressed on whether that’s the best the university can do to lighten the load for Chicago Star Scholars, Amiridis pointed to the state budget stalemate between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders over Rauner’s demand for pro-business, anti-union reforms.

“Under the current circumstances, it is” the best UIC can do, Amiridis said.

On that same day, Emanuel tried to put the best possible spin on UIC’s offer.

He said the “package” of free City Colleges tuition and UIC grants could be worth up to $45,000 toward a four-year degree with Pell grants and other loans and grants on top of that.

“A thousand kids applied in a short window; 855 or just shy of that took it. And when you meet with the parents and meet with the kids, a number of them were crying because this really was the difference between them going to school or not. . . . And every dollar counts given the financial strain they face in affording college. Beyond health care costs, it’s the No. 1 financial strain on middle-class families,” the mayor said then.

Two years ago, the University of Chicago offered to eliminate loans from the financial aid packages of Chicago students admitted to the U. of C. The so-called UChicago Promise also offered to waive application fees and offered mentoring programs for aspiring college students.

Northwestern stepped up with a plan to help outstanding CPS students from needy families prepare for college and gain admission to “selective colleges and universities.”

Emanuel served notice on that day that he planned to challenge them to offer Chicago Star Scholars even more money than UIC can afford to give.

“That means to all of the other colleges and universities in the city, now that we have one, I’ll be coming and knocking on your door about your responsibility to the kids of Chicago,” Emanuel said then.

“Let me say this about what I know about sales: When you get your first sale, numbers two, three and four are easier.”