Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday joked about the struggles — and rewards — of raising three teenagers and the skyrocketing cost of sending them to college.

Emanuel opened up just a little bit about his kids — Zach, Ilana and Leah — during the annual United Negro College Fund mayor’s luncheon.

“They’re lucky they made it out of teen years because we were gonna strangle [them] at about 15 or 16,” the mayor joked.

Mimicking the typical conversation with a tight-lipped teen, the mayor said, “How’s it going?’ Fine. What happened in school? Nothing. [But], they do come back. I will say that. Or at least I’m experiencing a renaissance right now. Remember that Mark Twain quote? `At 12, I concluded my father was a fool. By 18, I was shocked what he learned in only six years.’ I’m in one of those moments right now with my son.”

The mayor then shifted gears to the purpose of Thursday’s luncheon: raising money to send kids to college without forcing their parents to take second jobs or “go into the poor house.”

“I can tell you that [firsthand] with having now one in college, one on the way and another one in the chute ready to go,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel said the focus of his entire education agenda is to make certain that, “High school is not the destination point. . . . It’s a milestone on the road to college.”

The cornerstone is the Chicago Star Scholarship, 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 associate’s 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.

The University of Illinois at Chicago has sweetened the pot for at least 250 winners of the Chicago Star Scholarship.

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

The U. of C. has 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 gives annual scholarship support totaling $8,000 per student, along with a designated adviser to help them succeed.

The mayor maintained that those efforts — coupled with the early emphasis on college at CPS schools — are paying off.

“In the United States, 44 percent of all high school kids go to college. In Chicago, 42 percent. We now [nearly] match the [nation]. And our kids are not the same as the rest of the United States. They have other challenges they have to overcome. Another 20 percent go on to community college — almost equal to what’s going on nationally,” he said.

“Every effort we make here is to make sure that parents have the financial resources. Kids have the financial resources. Money should not be the reason you don’t go to college. The reason I’m proud to have this lunch is to ensure that our kids have the education and the resources to go as far as their dreams will take them.”

Three major donations were announced Thursday during the luncheon: $22,000 from Solstice to help City Colleges students go on to UNCF colleges; $75,000 from the Black McDonald’s Operators Association, the first installment of a multi-year commitment to benefit students in ZIP codes served by those franchises; and $250,000 from city of Chicago employees.