Malcolm X College is part of City Colleges of Chicago. Credit: Malcolm X College/Facebook

CHICAGO — The city is trying to make it easier for former City Colleges students to return to class and get a degree.

A new program, called Fresh Start, will allow about 21,000 people to return to class if they were previously unable to do so because they had debt they couldn’t pay, officials announced Tuesday. In all, the system is wiping out about $17.7 million in debt for those students.

Those interested in the program can apply online or by calling 773-COLLEGE. Registration is open until Aug. 20.

“We need to do everything we can to support these individuals, these adults,” by helping them get a degree while eliminating that debt, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “I look forward to seeing the number of people who are able to realize their dreams once this debt” is cleared.

The program will only apply to people who took courses at City Colleges but didn’t finish and haven’t been able to continue their studies because of their debt. They must have been in good academic standing when they attended, have taken classes within the last 10 years and plan to get a degree or certificate when they return.

Students who wish to enroll in the program will have to sign the Fresh Start Commitment form, promising to continue their education.

Students will still have to pay for new classes they take. But students in the program will receive financial coaching and help with payment plans for their new classes.

Once enrolled, half of a student’s debt will be waived if they stay enrolled for at least one term and maintain satisfactory academic progress. The rest of the debt will be waived once the student gets a degree or certificate.

“The intent here … is to make sure we’re supporting our students in their financial planning,” said City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado. “Oftentimes, it is the great impediment that stops our students in their tracks, if you will, in terms of their education.”

Salgado said City Colleges has already “written off” the $17.7 million in debt because it did not expect students to pay it off.

Salgado said City Colleges had great success with remote learning during the spring semester, when the coronavirus pandemic hit Chicago.

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