CSU Partners with HOPE Chicago Spearheaded by Alumna Dr. Janice Jackson

The Nonprofit Taps Businesses for Scholarships; CSU's Inaugural Class Starts This Fall

Chicago State University is proud to partner on the transformational scholarship program HOPE Chicago for Chicago Public School graduates. Congratulations to the Chicago State University students who are a part of this fall's inaugural class! Learn more about the program in today's Crain's Chicago Business.

New Nonprofit Led by Former CPS Chief Taps Businesses for College Scholarships

HOPE Chicago, co-founded with a $20 million donation from Pete Kadens and Ted Koenig, will cover the full cost of college for CPS graduates and their parents in a multigenerational equity strategy.

By ELYSSA CHERNEY

Crain's Chicago Business 

Janice Jackson

ENTREPRENEUR TURNED PHILANTHROPIST PETE KADENS AND MONEY MANAGER TED KOENIG DIDN’T WASTE ANY TIME APPROACHING THE CANDIDATE THEY WANTED TO RUN THEIR NEW AND BOUNDARY-PUSHING NONPROFIT, FORMER CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT JANICE JACKSON. 

The organization, which puts a novel twist on the premise that finances shouldn’t stand in the way of a college degree, was well in the works when Chicago Public Schools superintendent Janice Jackson announced her departure from the district last spring.

“It was maybe five or 10 minutes before we reached out,” joked Kadens, who's known for leading successful solar energy and marijuana companies before stepping back to focus on his family’s foundation.

Now the trio is publicly detailing their plans for the first time—and they’re not tempering expectations for how the new organization, called HOPE Chicago, will tackle some of the city’s most intractable problems from educational inequity to runaway crime. Jackson joins as its CEO.

With the ambitious goal of raising $1 billion over the next decade, HOPE Chicago is rolling out what it calls a “first-of-its-kind” scholarship program: The organization will pay the full cost of college for CPS graduates in need and offer the same support to a parent or guardian who wants to resume their own studies. It will also help provide counseling, mentoring and career guidance to high school students.

“I believe that poverty is a multigenerational issue and so we have to solve it with multigenerational options,” said Kadens, who launched a smaller version of the initiative that provided scholarships to about 80 students at a high school in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, last year. “The parents cannot go to college or postsecondary unless their kid is enrolled … it creates this unique degree of stickiness.”

Modeled after "promise" programs that pay for tuition and related expenses for public school graduates in other cities, HOPE Chicago projects it can provide about 24,000 scholarships and assist 6,000 of their family members pursuing postsecondary education in the next 10 years. The initiative also represents the type of public-private collaboration that's being tested in the city's Invest South/West program to uplift blighted communities.

In Toledo, all of the students who had parents take advantage of the program returned to college for a second year, Kadens said, and about 90% of all students in the program remained enrolled.

Kadens and Koenig, president and CEO of middle-market buyout firm Monroe Capital, provided an initial $20 million donation to cover the nonprofit’s operational costs for its first three years. The co-founders plan to leverage their vast networks of business executives, civic leaders and philanthropists to grow investment in the program. The nonprofit has also secured an additional $25 million in outside commitments and aims to raise $100 million in its first year alone.

Koenig, who founded his firm in 2004 and shepherded a spinoff through an IPO, said banks, law firms, private-equity firms and real estate developers can all play a part by investing in students because “just donating money alone hasn’t worked.” He said he will personally reach out to his contacts.

“Every middle-market business that’s here in the city benefits from an educated and stable and thoughtful workforce,” he said. “I think we can move mountains here by getting the business community behind this effort and basically building an arsenal for Janice to do her thing.”

Once again, the group is moving quickly. The first cohort of 14 students have already received scholarships and began classes at Chicago State University and the City Colleges of Chicago. The organization is working to finalize agreements with other two- and four-year institutions that will participate in the program, eyeing the state’s 12 public universities, community colleges and trade schools.

Jackson, who rose through the ranks as a teacher and principal before being tapped to head CPS in late 2017, possesses a deep knowledge of the district and the challenges faced by its most vulnerable students. She said she’s in the process of identifying CPS schools that can take advantage of the program and will focus on ones on the South and West sides, where the need is greatest.

About 81% of high school students graduated from CPS in the 2019-20 school year, according to district data, but only 67% enrolled in college. Students attending North Side schools were more likely to attend college than peers in other parts of the city, with just 75% of graduates remaining enrolled in college.

"WITH COLLEGE TUITION INCREASING SUBSTANTIALLY TO COMPENSATE FOR YEARS OF DECREASED GOVERNMENT FUNDING, STUDENT AID FROM STATE AND FEDERAL SOURCES DOESN'T GO AS FAR AS IT USED TO, PUTTING COLLEGE OUT OF REACH FOR MORE STUDENTS, JACKSON SAID. SHE SAID SHE WELCOMES MORE INVESTMENT FROM THE CORPORATE WORLD, WHICH HASN’T BEEN CONSISTENT IN THE PAST.”

“We’re going to bring together all these groups. We’re going to do something right away,” she said. “If we’re really serious about making sure students get to and through school, reducing violence, reducing poverty and increasing opportunity, this is a surefire way to do that, and we’re standing up the infrastructure.”