University of Chicago bulks up aid to low-income students

Staff Writer

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with about 100 college leaders from across the country last Thursday, including University of Chicago (U. of C.) President Robert Zimmer, to discuss a plan to help more high school graduates from low-income households get into college. Zimmer said the initiative — as well as a $10 million grant from university trustee Steven Kersten and his wife, Priscilla Kersten — would help the university boost its efforts to reach this target population.

In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Zimmer announced the launch of UChicago Promise, a program that helps Chicago high school graduates that attend the university graduate debt free. The loans are replaced by grants, which do not have to be repaid. The application fees are also waived. The program includes an Admissions Academy which offers educators professional development. The academy also offers resources to guide students and families through the college admissions and financial aid processes for any selective four-year college. U. of C. students who are a part of the university’s Metcalf Internship Program, are assigned to select high schools as guidance counselors to help coach students.

The fall 2013 entering class included 73 students from the city of Chicago, an increase of 59 percent over fall 2012, according to Calmetta Coleman, director of communications for civic engagement at the U. of C. She said the Admissions Academy placed eight Metcalf interns at five Hyde Park-area schools in 2012 including King, Kenwood Academy, Hyde Park Academy, Mt. Carmel and U. of C. Woodlawn Charter to support guidance counselors and students in the college application process. A sixth school, ACE Technical Charter, was added in 2013. Citywide, the Admissions Academy also served more than 1,100 students, more than 100 guidance counselors, and 73 schools with workshops on essay writing, interviewing, and navigating the financial aid process.

The university also reaches out to financially disadvantaged students through Collegiate Scholars, Upward Bound and College Bridge, programs it initiated several years prior to the launch UChicago Promise.

“We know that not enough low-income students are taking the steps required to prepare for college,” Obama said at the event. “That’s why I’m glad the University of Chicago — my neighbor, and the place where Michelle and I both worked in the past — is announcing a $10 million college success initiative that will reach 10,000 high schools over the next five years.”

Zimmer said the grant would also help the U. of C.’s Urban Education Institute build on the work its been doing, such as creating school improvement tools that are being used in classrooms in about 23 states.