CHICAGO (WLS) -- Monday there was a celebration to kick off a new school year and new beginnings at Chicago State University
And thanks to a government-funded University program, CSU seniors Shyla Taylor and Eva Maury start this new school year free from last year's debt.
"When I received the email, I literally thought that this was a joke," Maury said.
"This program really gave me hope," said Taylor.
Recently, university administration approved $500,000 to go towards a program to eliminate student debt due to COVID hardships.
"We know that they need help," said Rhonda Smith, CSU Financial Aid director. "We want to help them."
The CSU debt relief program funded by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund focuses on juniors and seniors with a 2.0 or higher who were classes away from graduation but had to drop out because of the pandemic.
"We know that they've been through a lot with a pandemic and we don't want them to worry about the debt to the university," Smith said.
The program has been a huge help for 24-year-old Taylor, who dropped out last year after she lost her uncle to COVID and her main source of income.
"Because I lost my job, everything else was kind of just breaking down," she said. "And that extra help it's going to keep me in school, That kept me in school, honestly."
For 28-year-old single mother Maury, the funds helped her pay down $9,000 in debt
Two days before my birthday I actually received an email that my debt was completely clear and I can register for classes, and I was like are you serious," Maury said.
Now the two seniors are now back on track to graduate this coming school year with their four-year degrees.
The university said so far they've helped dozens clear $150,000 in debt and have reached out to all eligible saying there is no application, just simply a want to help.
"It's been a tough time for all of us and we're ready. We're ready to be back," Smith said. "We're happy to have people back on campus with us today and so we're just very much looking forward to helping them out."