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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was live on more than 40 radio stations across Chicago with broadcast journalist Bill Kurtis last month talking about housing, crime and the presidential election. The discussion also turned toward education.
"We (Chicago) are the only city where if you get a B average in high school, community college is free," Emanuel said.
"I didn’t know that," Kurtis responded. Emanuel reiterated his claim, further explaining that Chicago was the only city in the United States to offer this incentive. Emanuel went on to say that if you keep the B average in community college, it was possible to get 30 percent to 40 percent off tuition for your remaining two years. Too good to be true? We decided to check it out.
When we reached out to the Mayor’s Office for further comment, we were directed to a press release from May 2016. The release announced the Star Scholarship program, an initiative created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chancellor Cheryl Hyman of the City Colleges of Chicago in 2014.
The Star Scholarship Program
Does the Star Scholarship program guarantee high school seniors with a B-average free community college? To an extent, but there are a few more qualifications.
In order to qualify for the Star Scholarship program, a high school senior needs to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, which is equivalent to a B. However, a high school senior also needs to be "completion ready," meaning students need to receive 17 or higher in math and English on the ACT. These qualifications go slightly beyond those outlined by Emanuel.
And what about students who wish to continue on after their two years in community college? Will they get a 30 to 40 percent discount off their tuition?
Maybe. It depends on which university or college the student applies to, and some institutions may also require "additional academic merits." As of the May press release, 15 four-year universities and colleges have become partners of the Star Scholarship program, with packages ranging from $2,500 to $50,000 per year. However, it is difficult to determine whether the 30 to 40 percent off figure quoted by Emanuel would be accurate in each student’s case.
But is Chicago the only city to offer this?
Another part of Emanuel’s claim was that Chicago was the "only city" in the United States to have a program like the Star Scholarship. However, a quick Google search revealed that this was not the case - Tennessee, Oregon, Minnesota, and Kentucky all have similar programs in place, which means students in cities in those states have access to such an incentive.
When we emailed the Mayor’s Office enquiring about these other programs, we received a reply saying that Chicago was "the first city to leverage free community college for high school students." But when we looked at the programs’ establishments chronologically, Chicago does not appear to have been the first. Tennessee beat Chicago to the punch.
In February 2014, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam announced the Tennessee Promise program during his State of the State address. The Tennessee Promise requires students to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA after being accepted into the program, and has some additional stipulations as well (such as community service).
Emanuel did not announce Chicago’s Star Scholarship program until October 2014. Additionally, according to an article from the Chicago Tribune, Emanuel himself said "the city took a page from Tennessee's plan in developing the Star Scholarship."
Mayor Emanuel said, Chicago is the "only city in the United States, you get a B average in high school, community college is free."
Chicago’s Star Scholarship program does allow students with a B average or higher to attend community college in the city for free. However, there are a few other requirements as well.
In addition, contrary to what Mayor Emanuel stated, Chicago is not the only city to offer such a program. Other states, including Tennessee, Oregon, and Minnesota, and the cities within them, offer similar programs to high school students.
While it is true a B average means you can go to community college for free in Chicago with some added requirements, Emanuel exaggerated his claim that Chicago is the only city in the nation to offer such an incentive. Therefore, we rate his claim Half True.
Email interview with Lauren Huffman, Mayor’s Press Office, Nov. 22 - Nov. 30
Email interview with Star Scholarship, Nov. 27-29
WGN Radio, "Chicago Radio Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel," Nov. 14, 2016
City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Star Scholarship, Dec. 19, 2016
City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Star Scholarship flyer, Dec. 19, 2016
National Conference of State Legislatures, Free Community College, April 25, 2016
Drive to 55 Alliance, The Road to Tennessee Promise, Sept. 16, 2015
Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Promise Scholarship, Dec. 19, 2016
Chicago Tribune, "Obama's plan for free community college has seed in Chicago," Jan. 9, 2015
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