Luis Martinez was a strong student in high school, and college was always in the cards for him. However, he hadn’t considered a community college until a scholarship opportunity led him to choose City Colleges. Now, he says it’s the best decision he’s ever made.

In his final years at George Washington High School on the city’s Southeast Side, Luis began exploring his college options. However, one major concern was holding him back: he didn’t want to graduate with debt. Fortunately, a partnership between Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago provided the solution Luis needed. Thanks to his good grades in high school, Luis qualified for the Star Scholarship, allowing him to pursue an associate degree tuition-free. This solidified his decision to enroll at Harold Washington College in the fall of 2020 to study accounting. Despite having to take classes online due to the pandemic, Luis still had a great college experience.

“My advisor was amazing, my professors were great, and I made a lot of friends along the way,” he said. “It was a really positive experience.”

Luis was especially grateful for the wraparound support services like the Wellness Center that are available to every student. He found them to be vital to help manage stress during the pandemic.

“I feel really privileged to be somebody who had those support systems and resources,” he shared. “That being available to every student was a beautiful thing. That’s probably when we all needed that support the most.”

The Transfer Center provided another important service to Luis. After attending a City Colleges transfer event, he learned about Governors State University (GSU)’s Dual Degree Program. The program partners with 17 community colleges in Illinois, including City Colleges, to provide a seamless transfer pathway to earning a bachelor’s degree. Students who meet specific criteria are guaranteed admission to GSU.

All of Luis’ City Colleges support systems collaborated to help make his transfer dreams a reality. The Transfer Center kept Luis on track with deadlines. His advisors and professors wrote him letters of recommendations, and student services helped him craft well-written essays. Luis was accepted guaranteed admission to GSU with an honors scholarship. He graduated in May 2024 with his bachelor’s degree in accounting tuition-free. Except for a few books and supplies, he didn’t pay out of pocket for his education.

“When I was in high school, one of my biggest fears was going into debt for my college education,” he said. “Now that I’m working my job and I’ve got two degrees and I don’t have any debt, it feels like a head start. I can breathe that sigh of relief thanks to City Colleges and Governors State.”

Luis not only has a bright financial future but also a promising accounting career ahead. He is completing an internship and plans to pursue a master’s degree and eventually become a certified public accountant (CPA).

"I’m super grateful for City Colleges and Governors State and the partnership between the two of them. I encourage others to take advantage of the route I did of going to City Colleges to get one degree and then transferring to another college to get a second degree."

Luis Martinez