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Nonprofit led by ex-CPS CEO hopes to invest in college and trade school scholarships

After stepping down a few months ago, former CPS CEO Janice Jackson said she looks forward to her new role at Hope Chicago, a job that comes with “a lot less drama.” 

Janice Jackson speaks about Hope Chicago, a new scholarship fund that supports Chicago students and their families by providing a debt-free post-secondary education and wraparound support, during a launch event, Monday, Oct. 18 at Chicago State University in Rosemoor, 2021.
Janice Jackson speaks about Hope Chicago, a new scholarship fund that supports Chicago students and their families.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A new nonprofit aims to help over 30,000 Chicagoans graduate from college and trade school over the next 10 years, and it looks to raise over a billion dollars to do it.

Hope Chicago, an organization led by former Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, will offer college and trade school scholarships to thousands of Chicago public high school students and will also cover costs outside the classroom like food, housing and emergencies.

“People think low-income students are going to school for free — they’re not,” said Jackson, Hope Chicago’s CEO. Jackson also noted how, in addition to grants, many low-income students rely on costly loans to pay for college.

“If you want to disrupt cycles of poverty, education is the best lever,” she said.

Four out of every five CPS students are low-income and almost 40% of Illinois borrowers drop out of college with debt and no degree, Hope Chicago said.

It won’t just be young students who will benefit from the program. Hope Chicago has a “two-generation” mission, meaning parents of scholarship recipients will be eligible for grants to start or continue their own education. Students and parents will also receive counseling and support services.

CEO of Chicago State University Dr. Janice Jackson Speaks about Hope Chicago, a new scholarship fund that supports Chicago students and their families by providing a debt-free post-secondary education and wraparound support, with a reporter, Monday, Oct. 18 at Chicago State University in Rosemoor, 2021. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said the new role offers her a chance to take more direct action to provide Chicagoans with educational opportunities.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The scholarship program is only the second in the country to have a parent-child approach, its organizers said. The first was Hope Toledo, which served as a model for the Chicago program. Last year, high schools participating in Hope Toledo saw a 20% boost in graduation rates, a mark of success Jackson and others hope to replicate in Chicago.

“I reject this narrative that Chicago is not on the right track or that Chicago is going to somehow devolve,” Jackson said. “This is an incredible city, a city worth saving.”

Stepping down just a few months ago, the former CPS CEO said she’s looking forward to her new role where she can take more “direct action” to address equity and shape opportunities in the city. In addition, the job comes with “a lot less drama.”

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about being able to do the work that I love, unencumbered by some of that mess,” she said.

President, CEO and Founder of Monroe Capital LLC speaks about Hope Chicago, a new scholarship fund that supports Chicago students and their families by providing a debt-free post-secondary education and wraparound support, during a launch event, Monday, Oct. 18 at Chicago State University in Rosemoor, 2021. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Ted Koenig, a co-founder of Hope Chicago, said, “Education should be a non-negotiable opportunity for all young people in Chicago.”
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Though fundraising only began last month, the program raised over $25 million, much of which was from Hope Chicago co-founder Ted Koenig, CEO of Monroe Capital, a Chicago-based asset management firm.

“Education is the answer to creating better lives, to reducing violence and to help close the wealth gap,” Koenig said. “Education should be a non-negotiable opportunity for all young people in Chicago, and every major city in the U.S.”

The organization has awarded 14 scholarships to Chicago students and hopes to award thousands more as the organization gets off the ground.

The core of its mission, beyond education, is to ensure Chicago families are strong and set up for success, and that Hope Chicago “becomes the village” that families can rely on, said Michele Howard, the organization’s chief programming officer.

“We say, ‘Yes, we can help you get a degree, we can help you go to a trade program, but we can also help you sustain your family with access to careers,” she said. “We believe in families.”