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Free tuition for top Illinois students offered under new program at UIC

The University of Illinois at Chicago hopes to attract students who would otherwise leave the state with merit scholarships | Onar Vikingstad / Wikimedia Commons

CORRECTION: Based on information provided from UIC, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the scholarships covered tuition and fees as well as room and board costs. The program only covers tuition and fees.

High-achieving students will be able to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago tuition-free under a new program that aims to stop the flow of top Illinois students to other states.

The Chancellor’s Fellows Program will be funded with UIC’s share of a $25 million pot of money set aside by the state for merit scholarships at the state’s public universities starting in the 2019-20 school year.

All high school valedictorians, as well as any student with at least a 3.8 grade point average and an ACT score of 30 or an SAT score of 1360, will be eligible. Students also must come from households with a maximum family income of less than $150,600 for a family of four.

The program will mean quite a savings for top students that attend the school. Base tuition and fees at UIC run $13,664 for in-state students. The scholarships do not cover room and board costs, however, which start at about $10,295, according to the UIC student housing webpage.

Money for the “Aim High” program was added to the budget in August by state legislators in an effort to match the financial support given to prospective students from out-of-state universities.

Many university administrators and state legislators believe that more generous scholarship packages from out-of-state schools are in part to blame for the huge flow of students out of Illinois. More students leave here to go to college than any state other than New Jersey. Many public universities in Illinois have seen their enrollments crater over the past decade.

That’s not the case at UIC, which saw record enrollment last year. But the school still loses prospective students across the state border, Provost Susan Poser said.

“Schools are coming from all over the country and offering big scholarship packages to students from Chicago and Chicagoland, and I do think this is a good way to start to stem the tide a little bit,” Poser said. “It certainly was a missing piece of our financial aid program.”


The money was distributed based on enrollment at each of the state’s 12 university campuses. To get the money, schools need to match the state’s contribution dollar for dollar.

Aside from the cap on maximum family income, which is based on six times the federal poverty line, the state lets schools set their own standards for recipients of Aim High money.

Most of UIC’s $55 million in financial aid goes to support need-based programs, and some currently enrolled students who would have met the requirements to be Chancellor’s fellows don’t receive any aid at all, according to Poser.

Poser emphasized that the expansion of merit-based aid did not come at the expense of need-based aid. More than half of UIC’s student body is eligible for federal need-based Pell grants, and around 40 percent of students pay less than $1,000 a year, Poser said.

Pedestrians walk past signage for the University of Illinois at Chicago campus in Chicago on September 10, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

UIC calculated its academic cut-offs for the scholarship based on an estimate of how many such students it would attract, mindful that the school probably could not afford to match the state’s full allocation of $3.8 million.

“We’ve set the bar very high,” Poser said.

Aim High funding drove south-suburban Governors State University to quadruple the amount of money it offers as merit scholarships, a GSU representative said. GSU was able to match $655,000 of its $809,000 allocation from the state.

Governors State University will officially roll out its plans for Aim High funding at an open house Saturday | Daniel X. O’Neil / Creative Commons creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

GSU will offer tiered scholarships, based on GPA, starting at $12,000 over four years for students with a 2.75 or greater GPA.

Another portion of GSU’s Aim High funding will be used to conduct a “talent search” for promising students in the arts, the performing arts, and debate.

“It’s such an exciting opportunity for us to be able to recruit a broad definition of talent, in terms of the arts and the humanities, which is something where students don’t think they’re going to receive much support,” Maimon said.

GSU and UIC are both using the Aim High money to direct students into specialized programming. Chancellor’s fellows at UIC will be automatically inducted into its honors college. GSU will require recipients to enroll in one of five programs preparing students for post-college careers.

Northeastern Illinois University will also offer students Aim High money, according to information posted on its website. Downstate, Northern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois UniversityUniversity of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and Illinois State have so far announced their plans the money.