No Barriers program helps decrease student loans by more than half

Mary Abowd
News Officer for Arts & HumanitiesUniversity Communications

In a sign of the impact from recent efforts to enhance affordability for students attending the College, the number of first-year students at the University of Chicago who took out loans to help cover educational expenses has decreased by more than half this year.

The steep decrease in borrowing is a direct result of the University’s No Barriers program, which launched in October 2014 and eliminated the student loan requirement from undergraduate, need-based financial aid packages. The University replaced those loans with direct grants.

“We knew the No Barriers program would address a real need among students, but the dramatic effect in a short time frame is even beyond our hopes,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “This means many more of our students can focus on their intellectual lives and personal and career development without having to worry about debt after they graduate. It’s deeply meaningful for them and for the College community as a whole.”

UChicago Admissions officers have been educating families about the admissions process and the No Barriers program, finding that parents are very interested in the assistance UChicago offers. More than 100 free information sessions nationwide on the college application and financial aid process have been presented, bringing guidance on how to apply to any selective college to more high school students than ever before. The sessions will continue this fall, with several bilingual English/Spanish sessions, increasing the total number of sessions during the first year of No Barriers to an anticipated 150.

No Barriers’ commitment to a no-loan policy for all financial aid recipients has its roots in the 2008 inception of the Odyssey Scholarships program, a pioneering effort to reduce or eliminate loans for students from families with limited incomes. The Odyssey Scholarships were launched with a $100 million donation from an anonymous alumnus and have continued through the generosity of thousands of alumni, parents, families, and friends who have contributed to the fund.

Odyssey continues to bolster aid and programming for low-income students through increased financial support, career guidance, personal mentorship and community support. Those benefits were extended to students from Chicago high schools in 2012 with the creation of UChicago Promise, a program that also offers application workshops for students and high school counselors, and mentoring programs to help students apply to the colleges of their choice.

Increasing support for student financial aid is a major priority of the University’s ongoing $4.5 billion fundraising effort, the University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact. To date, the College has raised about $81 million toward its Campaign Financial Aid goal of $150 million. Financial Aid is the highest of the College’s Campaign goals, followed by Leadership and Community at $114 million and Academic Programs and Research at $105 million.

No Barriers is a comprehensive initiative designed to eliminate obstacles that students face when applying to college. It supports students in receiving an empowering education, ensures that students can leave college without the burden of debt, and offers robust, personalized support that gives every UChicago student, regardless of background, opportunities to discover their passions and take full advantage of a world-class education from the College.