City Colleges Of Chicago To Award Students $12.7M In CARES Act Emergency Funds

City Colleges of Chicago
Photo credit City Colleges of Chicago

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Some Chicago college students are getting a helping hand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

City Colleges of Chicago said they are working to award eligible students $12.7 million in federal CARES Act funds.  

More than 22,000 City Colleges students are potentially eligible for CARES Act funds, and in a week, more than 8,000 students have submitted a statement of need form and are on their way to receiving federal funds.

“Our community college students are working to complete their education, many while supporting families, dealing with work disruptions or life as essential workers,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in a statement.  “I am proud that City Colleges has moved quickly to distribute needed financial support in a thoughtful, deliberate manner with the goal of supporting our students equitably at this challenge time.”

Officials said roughly 60 percent of City Colleges’ CARES Act direct aid funds will be disbursed based on headcount to students deemed eligible by U.S. Department of Education guidelines, up to $350 per student. Roughly 40 percent of CARES Act funds will be distributed to students experiencing homelessness, housing insecurity and food insecurity.

“Our students are hard-working and resilient, but many of them needed housing, food and financial support before the COVID-19 crisis, and this pandemic has only exacerbated their need,” said Juan Salgado, Chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago, in a statement. “We are committed to supporting our students through this crisis with remote learning, our virtual student supports, and critical financial assistance.”

Based on the CARES Act and initial guidance provided by USDOE, City Colleges of Chicago had prepared to distribute $12.7 million to all credit students enrolled as of March 13, the date a national emergency was declared by the White House. On April 23rd, the USDOE issued restrictions limiting the use of CARES Act funds to students who are or could be eligible to participate in Title IV (federal financial aid) programs. The effect of these changes was to eliminate DACA, undocumented and international students from consideration.

The USDOE also deemed students in the following circumstances ineligible for CARES Act funds:

  • those with defaulted student loans, who are not meeting Satisfactory Academic Progress
  • who have a federal overpayment
  • who are non-degree seeking
  • males with incomplete Selective Service Registration, and/or
  • students with an incomplete Statement of Educational Purpose.  

As U.S. Department of Education guidance changes, City Colleges continues to adjust its processes in the interest of supporting students with as much impact as possible.

Eligible students have received direct communications from City Colleges about the next steps to secure financial assistance.

Once eligible students have completed a FAFSA, a simple statement of need form, and selected an electronic means to receive payment, funds can be available in one to three days.

The City Colleges of Chicago Foundation has been raising resources to target urgent and emergent needs for students, and to prevent the ripple effects of COVID-19 from being a barrier to college persistence.

“I am humbled by and grateful to the donors that have and will continue to support this fund, and especially the foundation community who mobilized to ensure that our students were not left unnoticed during this crisis of a lifetime,” said Walter E. Massey, chair, City Colleges of Chicago Board of Trustees, in a statement.

So far, the Foundation has raised $2,000,000 for the Chancellors Retention Fund, which provides tuition support to allow students to stay enrolled, and more than $600,000 for the COVID-19 Student Emergency Fund, offering support for food, housing and other needs. 

"The students at City Colleges of Chicago were carrying a heavy load prior to COVID-19 and this pandemic has created even greater hardship in many of their lives," said Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, in a statement. "It is important that we recognize the challenges they face, their commitment to their education and do everything we can to support them through these trying times."

In the face of the pandemic, City Colleges of Chicago shifted classes for credit students online on March 23, moving from 10 percent of credit class sections being taught fully online to 92 percent of credit class sections being taught fully online in one week’s time. On April 13, City Colleges free adult education courses, including GED and English as a Second Language, started to be offered via distance learning. City Colleges also shifted its student services from offered almost entirely in-person to offered exclusively online.  The community college system has also loaned students more than 3,000 laptops and more than 1,600 Wi-Fi hotspots during this crisis.