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University of Chicago to waive application fees for CPS students

Updated: December 1, 2012 4:22PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push to convince the best and brightest Chicago Public School students to aim higher without regard to the cost of attending selective colleges got a boost Monday from a new partnership with the University of Chicago.

The U of C agreed to waive its application fee for all students from Chicago high schools and eliminate loans from the financial aid packages of those undergraduates accepted to the university. The waiver could pave the way for those students to graduate from the city’s premier university debt-free.

Known as UChicago Promise, the program also includes a new Admissions Academy tailor-made to help students, their families and guidance counselors navigate the sometimes intimidating process of applying to college and scrounging for financial aid.

The academy will be open to students applying to college, whether or not they aspire to attend the U of C. Paid interns will help staff the new admissions academy.

University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer said UChicago Promise is the university’s answer to Emanuel’s call to “help improve college opportunities” for CPS students.

“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,” Zimmer said in a press release announcing the program.

Emanuel, whose three children attend the pricey University of Chicago Lab School, praised the U of C for devising a “creative program that will help many young Chicagoans achieve their goals and graduate without a financial burden.”

The annual cost of attending the University of Chicago is pegged at $61,390. That includes: $43,581 in tuition and fees; $13,137 for room and board; $3,679 for books and supplies and $993 for miscellaneous expenses.

No wonder a 2008 study of CPS graduates found that only 27 percent of students qualified to attend a selective college actually enrolled in one, while just 38 percent students qualified to attend a very selective college aim that high.

For months, Emanuel has been on a mission to forge partnerships with Chicago’s preeminent universities to benefit CPS students.

In late May, DePaul joined forces with Microsoft to help Lake View High School make the conversion to one of five so-called STEM high schools specializing in science, technology, engineering and math.

When Lake View juniors and seniors become eligible for college-level courses, they’ll take those classes at DePaul, earn transferable college credits there and become “first in line” for admission to DePaul. The university will also help develop the new Lake View curriculum and train Lake View teachers.

Loyola University signed on to help Senn High School make the leap to one of five neighborhood high schools devoted exclusively to the rigorous International Baccalaureate diploma program tailor-made to prepare students for college.

The DePaul and Loyola partnerships—and the new one with U of C — were an outgrowth of the mayor’s plan to work with all of Chicago’s colleges and universities to expedite their five- and 10-year capital plans.

In exchange for the money and time they save by getting speedy construction permits and cutting through the bureaucratic red tape, the mayor demanded that they “take all of that expertise and bring it into our high schools and elementary schools.”

If that sounds like political hardball, it shouldn’t, Emanuel said.

“You call it a quid pro quo. I call it quite persuasive — and it’s worked. . . . I don’t think anybody got a shoulder dislocated in the process. . . . There was nobody [who said], ‘We can’t do that. Forget it.’ Not one of ‘em. Everybody said, ‘We’re very excited,’ ” Emanuel told reporters in May.

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