Photo by Robert Kozloff

The University of Chicago today announced the launch of UChicago Promise, a multipronged initiative designed to help students throughout the City of Chicago gain admission to, pay for, and thrive in college.

The centerpiece of the initiative is a commitment from the University to eliminate loans from the financial aid packages of students from Chicago who are admitted to the College—enabling them to graduate free of college debt.

“Chicago, from our pre-schools to our world-renowned universities, is committed to ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality education,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The step taken today by the University of Chicago is a creative step that will help many of Chicago’s own achieve their goals and graduate without a financial burden.”

In addition to replacing loans with grants or other aid that need not be repaid, UChicago Promise waives application fees and offers a wide array of support and mentoring programs for aspiring college students. The initiative, which begins with students entering college in 2013, applies to all Chicago residents who attend high school in the city.

“The University of Chicago has a long-standing commitment to improving urban education through research, innovative ideas, and practices. That commitment begins here in our own city,” said President Robert J. Zimmer.

Noting that the cost of college and lack of knowledge about the application process can be barriers for some students, Zimmer added: “While the average debt for students at the University has been shrinking in recent years through programs such as the Odyssey Scholarship, UChicago Promise represents an important new step in driving down debt for our students from Chicago—while also answering a call from Mayor Emanuel to help improve college opportunities for the city’s students.”

Mayor Emanuel made post-secondary success a priority in his Chicago 2011 Transition Plan for Education, noting that Chicago students need to be prepared not only to get into to college, but to successfully earn degrees.

Research shows that many Chicago students do not take the steps needed to enroll in colleges that match their qualifications. A 2008 study of CPS graduates by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found that only 27 percent of students qualified to attend a selective college enrolled in a selective college, and only 38 percent of students with qualifications to attend a very selective college enrolled in a very selective college.

While strides have been made in boosting college enrollment rates, many Chicago students remain daunted by the college application process or complex financial aid paperwork, while others do not get the support and counsel they need to aim high and succeed. The true cost of college for most families at very selective colleges is significantly lower than the full price, and sometimes lower than many education alternatives, yet many families continue to believe they cannot afford college.

Support for college admission beyond UChicago

To help address issues that keep some students from enrolling in colleges that match their qualifications, UChicago Promise also includes the creation of a new Admissions Academy, which will help students, their families, and guidance counselors navigate the complexities of college admissions and financial aid. It will support families through the application process and provide guidance counselors with professional development opportunities and other resources. The academy will begin this fall with workshops for families.

The University’s Jeff Metcalf Internship Program will expand to include UChicago Promise Metcalf internships. These paid internships provide for University undergraduates to help launch the Admissions Academy, in conjunction with professional staff from the Admissions Office. A pilot internship program began this fall.

Chicago students can take advantage of the Admissions Academy, whether they plan to attend UChicago or any other selective university or liberal arts college.

UChicago Promise also offers a new online resource for college-bound students at promise.uchicago.edu. This website gathers, in one place, all the opportunities and programs that make up UChicago Promise, along with other online resources for high school students, allowing families and students to easily access information they can use.

“One of our primary goals is to significantly impact not only students who are interested in attending UChicago, but also outstanding students who have the potential to attend other very selective four-year colleges,” said James Nondorf, Vice President and Dean of College Admissions and Financial Aid. “We want to lower the barriers to attending college for all qualified Chicago students by providing resources and support to turn their dreams into reality.”

Building on a strong foundation

UChicago Promise complements the University’s deep engagement with pre-K-12 schooling through the Urban Education Institute, which operates the four campuses of the University of Chicago Charter School, serving approximately 1,700 students on the South Side. UEI also prepares educators through the Urban Teacher Education Program and provides crucial data on school reforms through the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

UChicago Promise also builds on a strong foundation of existing programs and initiatives that the University sponsors to help Chicago students get the best chance at an excellent education. These include:

  • The Collegiate Scholars Program — a three-year program that prepares talented CPS students in grades 10-12 for college via a core curriculum and enrichment activities. The program works with 45 high schools and now has 335 alumni attending more 130 colleges and universities across the country.
  • Chicago Police and Fire Scholarships and CPS Scholarships — full-tuition, merit-based scholarships offered to children of Chicago police officers and firefighters and to students in particular CPS schools.
  • The University Community Service Center — a student-service entity that provides UChicago students with volunteer opportunities through more than 70 community service-based organizations, including 22 that focus on K-12 education or partner with Chicago Public Schools. The UCSC advises the student-led organizations—which contribute more than 20,000 volunteer hours annually—and helps them cultivate productive, respectful, and sustainable working relationships with community organizations and leaders.
  • The Neighborhood Schools Program — a program that connects UChicago students with teachers, schools, public service offices, and local community organizations. NSP involves 350 undergraduate and graduate students providing more than 35,000 hours a year of mentoring, tutoring and other support at 50 sites throughout South Side communities each year.

UChicago has welcomed more than 50 new students into the College from the City of Chicago this fall. Many of these incoming first-years have benefitted from the programs aimed at Chicago students. More than one-third (18) are receiving full-tuition scholarships through the University’s Chicago Police and Fire and Chicago Public Schools scholarship programs—an all-time high.

As UChicago Promise evolves, it will continue to be informed by the research undertaken at many of the University’s academic units and programs, including the School of Social Service Administration and the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

For college admissions resources and more information on UChicago Promise, visit promise.uchicago.edu.

Originally published on October 29, 2012.