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CPS students won’t come by free City Colleges scholarships so easily

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to give “B” students free scholarships to attend City Colleges of Chicago is a campaign promise he repeatedly cites in re-election talking points.

While it’s widely viewed as a free tuition program for those students, a look at the fine print shows it won’t be a cakewalk for graduating Chicago public school seniors.

An additional testing score required to win the Star Scholarship would rule out more than half of the pool of Chicago Public Schools students who graduated last year with a B average, a Chicago Sun-Times review of the numbers shows.

That’s because B students must also score at least a 21 on both the math and English sections of the ACT. This extra qualification alone cuts out more than half of the pool of more than 5,264 students who graduated from CPS in 2014 with B averages.

In 2014, 2,503 students in CPS fulfilled that requirement, according to numbers provided to the Chicago Sun-Times by CPS.

That same year, CPS students scored an average 18 on the ACT, 17.4 on English section and 18.2 on mathematics, according to Illinois State Board of Education statistics.

Typically, about 90 percent of City Colleges students need to take remedial courses in English and math to elevate to college-level classes.

CPS officials have estimated that between 500 and 1,000 students graduate with a B average and do not go on to college, many because of financial need.

But CPS did not have estimates on how many students typically don’t go on to college and meet the full requirements for the scholarship.

Students who apply for the scholarship must first apply for federal grants and financial aid. But if students are denied the federal aid, they still qualify for the scholarship, a City Colleges spokeswoman said.

“Star is a unique scholarship program for us in that it allows any student who meets the qualifications to automatically receive a full ride (after application of financial grant aid) and, unlike any other scholarships, is open to any and all students who qualify,” said Katheryn Hayes, City Colleges of Chicago spokeswoman.

Hayes said the colleges have received 1,220 applications and is working through the evaluation process, which cannot be completed until the end of the school year.

Emanuel has touted the scholarship to the two-year colleges as a way for deserving students who otherwise can’t afford college to eventually move on to earn a bachelor’s degrees.

But there are skeptics, including those who say the qualifications are such that minority students who meet them would likely attend a four-year school anyway.

“This could draw in students who would otherwise go to state colleges and who would be better off in those schools. In a way, touting these scholarships kind of takes away from some of the problems that are already there,” said Pavlyn Jankov, research facilitator with the Chicago Teachers Union. “You’re not going to improve the schools by pulling in better students, you’re going to improve the school by improving the services. The issue is, there are still students out there who do need the remediation classes.”

in an emailed statement, Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for Emanuel said: “The Administration has been not only clear about the requirements of the STAR Scholarship, but why it is needed. Too many students face too many financial barriers to college. This program is about making our city colleges a ticket to a middle class life and a brighter future for all CPS students.”

The guidelines on the Star Scholarships allow students one year from graduation to fulfill the requirements if they do not initially meet them.

However, a recent study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research raised questions about the long-term effects of steering CPS students to a two-year college. The study shows only 7 percent of CPS students who enroll in a two-year college end up with a degree.

“UChicago CCSR research shows that students with the same qualifications upon leaving high school are much more likely to graduate if they attend a college with a high institutional graduation rate,” the report states. “When students attend a college where less than a quarter of all students graduate, chances are they will not graduate either — even if they have strong qualifications.”

Still, even those skeptical of the Star Scholarship agree that the decision to open up the benefit to “Dreamers” is a plum to undocumented, college-bound students. Those students — who must also first meet the academic requirement — would otherwise be precluded from filing for government aid.