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CHICAGO — A new program will wipe out existing student loan debt for former City Colleges of Chicago students who re-enroll and earn their degree or certificate, officials announced Tuesday.

As part of the new “Fresh Start” program, any former City Colleges of Chicago students who left in good academic standing but did not earn their degree or certificate can re-enroll and have their debts forgiven if they complete the program.

“Too often student debt stands in the way of people’s lives and futures,” City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado said. “This is no time to stop, no time to take a gap year, especially for students from our local communities.”

According to Salgado, as many as 21,000 former students who owe a combined $17 million in debt qualify for the program. Of those students, 51 percent are Black and 34 percent are Latino, many coming from neighborhoods most impacted by the economic effects of coronavirus and systemic racism.

Mayor Lori Lighfoot said the program is part of a larger effort to address poverty and improve upward mobility in the city.

Watch Above: Mayor Lightfoot and Chancellor Juan Salgado announce the “Fresh Start” debt forgiveness program at Chicago City Colleges

“This is about furthering our citywide commitment to educating Chicagoans, no matter their age or circumstances when they left the City Colleges of Chicago system,” Lightfoot said.

Salgado said earning a degree could provide many with improved prospects in the current economy, pointing to a decline in the number of jobs which don’t require a degree but increasing opportunities for those who have one.

“With debt they cant register for courses, they can’t complete their certificate or degree, and most likely wont be part… of the recovery,” Salgado said.

The “Fresh Start” program will be a limited-time opportunity; students have about a month to enroll. Those who do will have half of their outstanding debt forgiven when they re-enroll, and the remaining half forgiven when they complete their studies.

“These students have had success with us before, they’ve acquired some credit and left with good academic standing, and now they can finish what they started,” Salgado said.