Mayor Lightfoot and City Colleges of Chicago Launch Fresh Start: A Debt-Forgiveness Program Welcoming Students Back to College


More than 21,000 Former Students with a Total of $17.7 Million in Debt Offered Path to Re-Enroll & Erase Debt

Chicago, IL – To give thousands of Chicagoans the chance to return to college and earn a credential, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) Chancellor Juan Salgado today announced the launch of Fresh Start, a college debt forgiveness program. Fresh Start offers more than 21,000 former City Colleges students – who left the community college system within the last ten years while in good academic standing – the opportunity to return to college, clear their debt, and earn a college certificate or degree.

“Many of Chicago’s students are kept from finishing college due to debt that forces them to pause their academic journey,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “With Fresh Start, former City Colleges’ students will be able to finish college debt-free, pursue their dream careers and set themselves up for success in the post-COVID economy. This exciting new initiative is the next big step to ensure all Chicagoans, no matter their circumstances, have equal access to the resources needed for upward mobility.”

“Students with debt are stuck — they cannot register for courses, and they cannot complete their certificate or degree,” said Chancellor Salgado. “We are committed to helping Chicagoans erase this debt, complete a credential, and launch a career path that leads to better jobs, better pay, and upward mobility for themselves and their families.”

An economic downturn is the time to accelerate completion of a college credential to be ready for the recovery. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, during the 2008 recession, the economy lost 5.6 million jobs for people with only a high school diploma and gained only 80,000 during the recovery. For those with a Bachelor’s Degree, the economy actually gained 187,000 jobs during the recession, and then gained 8.4 million jobs during the recovery.

City Colleges of Chicago will play a crucial role in Chicago’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. City Colleges prepares Chicagoans for careers in our region’s high-demand fields, including transportation, distribution and logistics and healthcare, and works to expand economic opportunity – two priorities outlined in the City of Chicago’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force Advisory Report. City Colleges’ Fresh Start program is another example of Mayor Lightfoot’s commitment to reforming the antiquated fines and fees system that disproportionately impacts Chicago’s low-income communities. Earlier in July, the Lightfoot administration launched the Chicago Utility Billing Relief (UBR) Program, which will help Chicago’s most vulnerable residents come into compliance on City utility bill payments. The program is designed to reduce the cost of water and sewer portions of City utility bills, making them more affordable and preventing residents from having to make difficult choices between paying for utilities and other critical goods and services. Debt relief will be granted for residents that demonstrate an ability to manage the reduced rate bills for one year.

These more than 21,000 students have had success – they have accumulated some college credit, and left in good academic standing – and now can finish what they started. Some students have as little as one course or one semester left to obtain their degree. These students are fifty-one (51) percent Black and 34 percent Latinx, and many come from neighborhoods most impacted by the current economic crisis.

Through Fresh Start, a returning City Colleges student will see half of their outstanding debt forgiven if they remain enrolled and make Satisfactory Academic Progress through their first new term. The remaining half of their balance will be forgiven when they complete their credential – either an associate degree, advanced or basic certificate, based on their academic plan.

At the point of re-enrollment, students will commit to an advising session with a City Colleges advisor and a confidential financial counseling session with City Colleges’ non-profit partner, Working Credit NFP, to support their academic goals and come out financially stronger.

Those interested in taking advantage of Fresh Start will:
– Enroll in at least one credit course at CCC
– Pay a one-time $75 non-refundable re-instatement fee upon re-enrollment
– Meet with an advisor to develop an plan to support their academic goals
– Meet with a financial counselor and develop a credit action plan to support their financial goals
– Complete the FAFSA, if eligible (by August 1st for the 2020-21 academic year)
– Satisfy new term payment arrangements (e.g. payment plan or financial aid)
– Remain enrolled for the current term and maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress

The Fresh Start program will take effect with the fall 2020 semester and run through 2023. City Colleges invites qualifying individuals to take advantage of this opportunity by calling 773-COLLEGE or going online at The deadline to register for 16-week credit classes at City Colleges of Chicago is August 20, 2020.