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University of Illinois Program

University of Illinois Program
To Help Low-Income Students

Students from poverty-stricken families aspiring to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) may be able to do so debt free because of a new plan announced in early December.

The Illinois Promise program, which will be privately financed, is aimed at students for whom established financial aid programs fail to provide enough help to afford four years of college, said UIUC interim chancellor Richard Herman.

“As a public university, we must ensure that talented students of all academic backgrounds have access to our programs,” Herman said. “If the face of our campus does not reflect our society, we cannot fulfill our obligation to create the leaders of future generations.”

The program will be open to incoming freshmen students from Illinois families with income at or below the federal poverty level — currently $22,030 for a family of five. Illinois Promise will provide aid in addition to state and federal programs to pay for tuition, fees, books and housing throughout a qualifying student’s college career.

“The idea is to decrease the loan burden,” Herman said.

Money for Illinois Promise will come from individuals and corporations, Herman said. It would fill the gap between what established financial assistance provides, which often in such cases is enough to cover tuition, and the actual cost to go to school.

“We feel that students who would qualify for this program are particularly vulnerable to dropping out for financial reasons,” Herman said. “We want them to know that we’re committed to seeing that finances are not a roadblock to their success here.”

The program could give a boost to the university’s effort to enroll a diverse student body at a time when minority enrollment has been declining, said Andres Fernandez, a junior studying political science.

“I think instituting this new project will also attract and recruit a lot more students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds who don’t necessarily think of (UIUC) as an option,” he said.

Herman estimated that about 125 students will qualify next fall and that the number will increase to about 600 students by the program’s fourth year. The cost for that first year is estimated at $280,000 but eventually will be a fund-raising obligation of “several million dollars,” Herman said.

Similar programs are already in place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Maryland at College Park, Herman said.

The “Carolina Covenant” program, which began this fall, is open to families with incomes of 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, according to the university’s Web site.

The Maryland program, called “Maryland Pathways,” also started this year and already involves 300 to 400 students, said Cassandra Robinson, a school spokeswoman. Maryland Pathways uses a combination of private donations, campus money and a state access grant, Robinson said. 

Associated Press

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