Fifty years ago, the University of Chicago became one of the first universities in the nation to partner with the federal government on a suite of programs to help high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve academic success.
UChicago and its Office of Civic Engagement recently celebrated the far-reaching impact of two groundbreaking efforts to help low-income, high-potential Chicago students gain admission to, pay for and thrive in college: the Office of Special Programs-College Prep program, which since 1968 has helped more than 3,000 South Side students prepare and apply for college; and the Collegiate Scholars Program, which in the past 15 years has helped 100 percent of its more than 500 alumni enroll in four-year colleges.
“Ensuring that students from all backgrounds have access and the opportunity to succeed in higher education is a vital priority for the University,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “The Office of Special Programs is especially focused on providing a system of support and enrichment for young people in the University’s neighboring communities; such programs help first-generation students succeed while strengthening the colleges and universities they choose to attend.”
One College Prep program alum, UChicago second-year Naa Ashitey, knew she would go to college—but she wasn’t sure how she would get there, or how she would afford it. Her father, a taxi driver, works seven days a week; her mother has always cobbled together multiple jobs to help provide for the family.
As a high school student living in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, Ashitey was eligible for the OSP Upward Bound program, which offers year-round academic support, along with help navigating college admissions and financial aid, to students from four communities and four high schools near campus.
The program, which serves more than 100 students each year, helped connect Ashitey with a full-ride QuestBridge scholarship; she’s now on a pre-med academic track and aspires to earn both an MD and a PhD. “I needed to get into college not only to achieve my dream of being a doctor,” she said, “but also to be able to go back and help my family just like they helped me growing up.”