25, No. 19, April 20, 2006
‘Illinois Promise’ helps
students from needy families attend UI
Craig Chamberlain, News Bureau Staff Writer
One of the students is a farm
kid from southern Illinois studying animal sciences. One is from Chicago, majoring
in hospitality management and on a hip-hop dance team. Another is from the Chicago
suburbs and studying for a career in special education.
They are three of 129 freshmen going to school this year with help from
Promise,” a privately financed program at the UI, created
by Chancellor Richard Herman more than a year ago.
“Across the nation, states are funding less and less of the cost of higher
education,” Herman said. “And the net effect is that fewer and fewer
students from the neediest families are able to afford to attend college, and
those who do are less likely to complete their education. Illinois Promise will
help ensure that the brightest students from across Illinois – regardless
of their ability to pay – will be able to prepare themselves for roles
as leaders of the state, the nation and the world.”
The program, which began with the current school year, is designed to ensure
that in-state students from low-income families will be able to attend Illinois.
Students who meet the program’s criteria are promised the financial aid
necessary to cover the estimated cost of all tuition, fees, books, and room and
“These are all good students or else they wouldn’t have been admitted
here,” says Dan Mann, financial aid director at Illinois. “But most
of these students would not be able to be here without this money,” he
To be eligible, students must come from families with incomes at or below the
federal poverty level, and with no contribution expected from the family toward
educational expenses – as determined through the university’s financial
aid application process.
Only incoming freshmen were eligible for the current school year, but sophomores,
juniors and seniors will be phased in successively over the next three years.
For Hannah Rothe, from Brighton, about 35 miles north of St. Louis, Illinois
was “always where I wanted to go,” and the only school to which she
applied. But paying the bill was a concern, especially with three siblings. During
her senior year in high school, “it seems like I spent all my time applying
for scholarships,” she said. “I knew I was going to have to help
my parents out.”
When Rothe received her financial aid award letter last spring, “it was
just amazing” to see that everything was paid for, she said. “It
was really great to find out I would be eligible for something that would cover
my entire education.”
According to Mann, $231,000 in Illinois Promise funds have been awarded during
this school year, with the award per student averaging $2,340. Students in the
program receive the federal, state and institutional grants and scholarships
for which they qualify. They also are expected to participate in about 10 hours
per week of on-campus work through the federal work-study program. The Illinois
Promise funds, all raised from private donations, are there to bridge the gap.
Evidence of the students’ need can be found in the number who get loans
to cover transportation and miscellaneous expenses, Mann said. Sixty-two
of the 129 students, or almost half, still find it necessary to take out loans
averaging $2,150, he said.
Kandace Roberson, from the west side of Chicago, near Oak Park, had also always
had her eye on Illinois for college – in part, she said, because “I’ve
always been in love with the basketball team.” As her career interests
kept changing, before and into high school at North Side College Prep, she kept
checking to make sure Illinois offered the academic program she was interested
in. When she settled on hospitality as the field she wanted to pursue, she found
a hands-on hospitality program at Illinois that she really liked.
But even with a family promising “to do whatever it takes” to fund
her schooling, and her own attitude that “where there’s a will, there’s
a way,” Roberson said finances were a big concern. “It would have
been much harder” without Illinois Promise, she said.
“It’s priceless, and I think it’s something that’s going
to drive me to work even harder,” Roberson said.
Jack O’Neal, from the Chicago suburb of Palatine, had looked at several
options for school, including a start in community college. But with one uncle
an Illinois alumnus, and four cousins on the campus, “there was some family
bias to come here,” he said. Illinois also had a program in special education,
the field he was influenced to pursue in growing up with a younger brother with
Cost was a big concern, however, even though his parents told him not to worry
about it. O’Neal had contemplated the possibility of taking time off between
semesters to earn money for school. “I was going to get a degree from a
four-year university – it was just a matter of when,” he said.
Finding out about Illinois Promise made the difference, O’Neal said. He
already had received a special state tuition waiver for students planning to
major in special education, which could be used at other Illinois schools. But
once he and his mother found out about his eligibility for Illinois Promise, “I
think we both knew I would be coming here,” he said. “It was something
I earned and something I felt I owed to my family to come to an elite four-year
“As we implement our plan to become the indisputable leader among
public research universities, Illinois Promise is a reflection of our promise
to Illinoisans that we will continue to provide access to the most-talented students
in the state, serving as a gateway for their success,” Herman said.
More than $1 million has been raised to fund Illinois Promise, including
significant donations from Betsy Hendrick, Lou Mervis and State Farm
To contribute to the program, visit www.giving.uiuc.edu.