“We Are Here Because We Are Accessible”: City Colleges Fresh Start Program Highlighted in Crain’s

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Across the country and right here in Chicago, college students and alumni struggle with the financial ramifications of large amounts of student debt. City Colleges of Chicago’s deputy provost Stacia Edwards recently shared how a City Colleges initiative is removing financial barriers to education and career readiness for our students in an article published December 19, 2022 in Crain’s Chicago Business.

In the article, titled “Career readiness programs score wins for job seekers and employers,” Deputy Provost Edwards discussed the intentional approaches City Colleges of Chicago is taking to help its students of color find success in college and career preparation.

“We work proactively to eliminate barriers to employment and to address the causal factors that are underlying the socioeconomic disparities and inequities of access and graduation (in) higher education,” Edwards said in the article.

One significant barrier to higher education is the cost. An 2022 Education Trust analysis cited in the same article revealed racial disparities in student loan debt. The analysis found that Black men and women hold a disproportionate amount of student loan debt a year after finishing their undergraduate degree compared to all other racial and ethnic groups: Black women on average hold $38,800 in student debt, and Black men graduate with nearly $36,000 in loans.

To remove barriers to education and career growth caused by crippling levels of student debt, City Colleges launched the Fresh Start Student Debt Forgiveness Program, which eliminates debts for former City Colleges students who want to return to their studies. The program is open to students who incurred at least $201 in debt while attending City Colleges prior to July 1, 2020. The program also provides students with credit-building and financial coaching sessions to support their long-term financial health.

City Colleges provides other free supports designed to reduce the financial burden for students, including resources like food pantries, personal and professional counseling, resume help, interview attire for job-seeking students, and more.

Edwards stressed that programs like these are an integral part of City Colleges’ mission to make higher education possible for all Chicagoans.

“We’re a community college, and so I really believe that that’s why we’re here,” she said. “We are here because we are accessible.”

Learn more about City Colleges Fresh Start program at www.ccc.edu/freshstart.