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CHICAGO Some CPS graduates qualify to continue their education with free tuition at the City Colleges of Chicago.

Next month, 23-year-old Monique Harvey will graduate from Columbia College with a degree in television writing and production.

“I knew I was going to go to college. There was no question about that,” Harvey said. The question for Harvey was how she was going to get to college.

With her mother facing mental health issues, Harvey experienced homelessness in high school. She recalls having no heat or hot water, taking showers at neighbors’ homes, couch-surfing and sleeping in shelters,

“Everything happens for a reason. Even though it was a traumatizing time, I was able to come through and soar through it all,” Harvey said.

At Chicago Vocational High School, she connected with the trauma-focused ‘Working on Womanhood’ or ‘WOW’ program.

“If I needed anything, they were there,” Harvey said.

When she applied to the City Colleges of Chicago, she received a life-changing surprise.

“I got a letter. It was like, yeah, you not only qualify for financial aid, but you get the Star Scholarship, which covers what financial aid does not. And when I found out Kennedy-King had media, I was sold,” Harvey said.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched the Star Scholarship in 2015 to boost interest in the seven city colleges and create a pathway to higher education for students in need.

There are nearly 4,000 Star Scholars currently enrolled at city colleges.

“One of the biggest barriers for our students in the city is the financial component,” President of Kennedy-King College Dr. Gregory Thomas said.

Harvey graduated with an Associate Degree in 2019 and said she had a lot of fun building connections, hosting her own radio show and serving in student government.

Harvey is in stable housing now and also helps to take care of her little sister.

Through the Star partnership, she was able to transfer to Columbia, and with a combination of financial assistance, her college education was debt free.

Harvey now wants to pursue a Master’s Degree in creative writing, with her sights set on the entertainment industry and community outreach because she had a lot of help along the way.

“You can’t give up. You have to keep looking for resources. Keep looking for support systems, because they’re out there,” Harvey said.

City colleges have virtual open houses happening this week, with enrollment open for summer and fall classes.

Kennedy-King also has a Statesmen Momentum Scholarship available for eligible students who do not qualify for the Star Scholarship.

More resources can be found at La Casa Norte, an organization serving youth and families facing homelessness, as well as One Million Degrees, working to accelerate community college students’ progress on career pathways to economic mobility.