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Every student at five Chicago high schools to get free college tuition, nonprofit says

Students surprised with promise of free college
Students surprised with promise of free college 02:46

Chicago — Students funneling into the Al Raby high school auditorium in Chicago on Tuesday had no idea that each and every one of them was about to hit the lottery. 

"You're going to hear from me something soon that's going to change everything," Pete Kadens, a wealthy businessman who has started three companies, told them. "Your college tuition, your room and board, your books and fees will be paid for and you will go to college for free."

Every student at the high school and four other Chicago schools would have those things paid for, he said. And because poverty is an intergenerational problem, one parent from each family gets to go to college too. 

"There's never been anything of this scale, of this magnitude, of this import done in this community," Kadens told CBS News. 

One could call Kadens a self-made man, but he would disagree. He says he benefitted from privilege growing up as a White man with means, who was afforded opportunities simply because of the color of his skin and his  circumstances. 

"This country was built on the notion that no matter where you come from, you can become successful and wealthy — that just factually is not true," Kadens said. 

Al Raby high school is full of students with big dreams bridled by harsh realities — they dream of going to college but don't have money to pay for it. 

For example, junior Armani Barber is near the top of her class. She knows she could make it through college, but doesn't know how she'd pay for any of it.

"I was thinking about being a lawyer," Barber told CBS News. 

Enter Kadens, who, along with former Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, hopes to fight inequity with a mammoth initiative called Hope Chicago

Jackson called their initiative a "game changer" that could be a model for other cities across the U.S. 

Over the next 10 years, Kadens and other donors plan to invest $1 billion into Hope Chicago. But they say the dividends are already pouring down the cheeks of a new generation that's finally feeling their dreams within reach. 

In 2020, CBS News was there as Kadens launched a pilot program at Scott High School in his hometown of Toledo. Students there were given the same scholarship opportunity to attend college for free. That program says it's been able to provide funding for more than 150 students since its launch.

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