• FEATURED REPORT: Unequal Opportunity in Illinois: A Look at Who Graduates College and Why It Matters

    FEATURED REPORT: Unequal Opportunity in Illinois: A Look at Who Graduates College and Why It Matters

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The Partnership for College Completion is a new nonprofit organization launched to catalyze and champion policies, systems and practices that ensure all students in and around Chicago - particularly low-income, first-generation students - graduate from college and achieve their career aspirations

EDITORIAL: College enrollment is up at CPS, but graduating is a different story

https://chicago.suntimes.com/opinion/college-enrollment-college-graduation-chicago-public-schools/

Sun-Times Editorial Board

More students than ever are going on to college from Chicago Public Schools, but we haven't reached the end game yet.

More than two-thirds — 68.2 percent — of the Class of 2017 enrolled in a two- or four-year college by the spring following graduation, according to the latest district data. That's a significant increase from just five years ago, when college-going hovered at around 55 percent.

The numbers reflect a payoff from CPS efforts to better prepare kids for post-secondary education. CPS, for example, is offering more Advanced Placement classes and forging partnerships with outside groups that help support teens on the way to college.

And with more graduates now heading specifically to City Colleges of Chicago, give credit, too, to the Star Scholarship program. It provides free tuition and books to City Colleges, plus scholarships to participating four-year schools, to CPS graduates with a 3.0 GPA or higher.

All good news for teens, their families and Chicago, too. Our city benefits when more young people set their sights on higher education.

But there's a caveat to the good news: Black and Latino students lag behind as a whole, with only 57.7 percent of African-American high school graduates and 66.2 percent of Latino graduates enrolling in college.

Once enrolled, students of color also are less likely to reach the final milestone, college graduation. Some two dozen colleges in Chicago and the rest of Illinois pledged this week to do more to stem the "college completion crisis" for minority and low-income students, through the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative.

We'll soon find out more on college-going and other measures of achievement in CPS. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research is expected, perhaps next week, to release its annual report on educational attainment in the district. Last year's report included a stunning and sobering estimate: Just 18 percent of ninth-graders were expected to earn a college degree within the next 10 years.

We've got a long way to go to the end game.

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‘College completion crisis’ spurs pledge to end racial, income grad gaps by 2025

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https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/graduation-gap-college-completion-crisis-university-racial-income-illinois-equity-attainment-initiative-depaul-national-louis-roosevelt/

Carlos Ballesteros

Patrick Birden-Didona graduated from DePaul University in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in secondary education.

The Belmont Cragin native was supposed to graduate in 2014 but ended up having to stay for another two semesters. That extra year cost him $25,000 in loans — and he believes DePaul is to blame.

"A big reason why I had to attend DePaul for five years instead of four was because of bad advising," Birden-Didona said. "Most kids had their parents help them navigate the college process. I didn't have that same parental support, and the university didn't do a good job in filling that gap."

Birden-Didona's experience isn't unique: Research shows working class, first-generation college students of color from Illinois have, on average, a much harder time getting their associate's or bachelor's degrees than their white, wealthier peers.

That is why DePaul and two dozen other colleges and universities in Chicago and across the state have teamed up to help get more working-class students, particularly those who are black and Latino, across the finish line.

The Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative is a new project from education non-profit Partnership for College Completion. It includes 25 of the region's public and private two- and four-year colleges and universities that have pledged to end racial and economic inequities in graduation rates by 2025. The aim is to remove barriers that help keep students from getting their associate's or bachelor's degrees in a timely manner.

The steps the schools will take include: providing financial-aid plans tailored to low-income students, making colleges and universities more welcoming for students from underrepresented backgrounds and working to ensure that each degree path is clearly mapped out so students can get the courses they need to maintain timely progress in pursuit of their degree.

Participating schools include the University of Illinois campuses in Chicago and Champaign-Urbana, National Louis University, College of Lake County, Joliet Junior College, Roosevelt University and the seven City Colleges of Chicago.

Lisa Castillo Richmond, managing director at the Partnership for College Completion, said the initiative was devised to tackle what's known in education circles as the "college completion crisis" among low-income black and Latino students.

"We've seen an increase in college enrollment among black and Latino students and low-income students over the last decade, but the graduation rate for these students remains stagnant," Richmond said. "We want to make sure there's support for these students beyond just getting them through the door."

Sixty percent of college students from Illinois graduate with an associate's in three years or bachelor's degree in six years, according to state data. But a student's race and family income are key factors in whether a student will be part of that 60 percent.

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, 66 percent of white students in the state graduate with a bachelor's degree in six years — twice the percentage of black students (36 percent) and ahead of the number of Latino students (48 percent) who do. Nearly 36 percent of whites get an associate's degree in three years, ahead of blacks (17 percent) and Latinos (24 percent).

Just 37 percent of low-income students from Illinois earn a bachelor's degree in six years — half the rate of middle- and upper-class students, according to data from the Illinois Students Assistance Commission analyzed by Advance Illinois, an education non-profit.

Nivine Megahed, president of National Louis University, where more than 70 percent of students come from low-income households, the initiative is indicative of a broader movement to provide a high-quality education for all who seek it without requiring students to break the bank.

"The entire region has to step up and push for equity among higher education because it represents economic and social mobility for those who need it the most," she said.

In August, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pledged four years of free tuition to admitted students who come from families with an income of less than $61,000 a year.

Birden-Didona, a social sciences teacher at Disney II Magnet Elementary School on the North Side, is eager to see if this initiative helps. He said while he "loved" his time at DePaul, he's wary of the school's commitment to guiding its working-class students of color throughout the entire college process.

"Is the [Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative] going to be a genuine effort to improve the lives of poor students or just a publicity stunt?" he asked. " … I guess we'll have to wait and see."

In a statement, DePaul said it offers "many resources" and "academic support services" and operates a Office of Multicultural Student Success to work with first-generation college students.

"DePaul is committed to the retention, persistence and graduation of all our students, and to eliminating the achievement gaps that exist for marginalized college students," the statement said. "As a collective result of our efforts, DePaul's retention and graduation rates are well above the national average and the outcomes for our first-generation and low-income students are on par with the rest of the student body."

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Chicago-Area Universities Commit to Closing College Graduation Gaps

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https://news.wttw.com/2018/10/02/chicago-area-universities-commit-closing-college-graduation-gaps

By Brandis Friedman

Black college students in Illinois are only half as likely as their white counterparts to earn a four-year college degree within a six-year time frame.

That research comes from a local education nonprofit that unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday to get 25 colleges and universities in and around Chicago to close that gap in the next seven years.

In his Wednesday afternoon class, college senior Cristian Baeza is all smiles. In May, he'll be the first among his five siblings to graduate college.

"Unfortunately my two older brothers dropped out of college, so it's kind of like that pressure of me having to fulfill my parents dream," Baeza said. "The American dream for them was for us to get an education since they couldn't back home."

Baeza knows his brothers may have struggled with what many first-generation college students have faced.

"I think just in general, it's sometimes hard when you don't see someone teaching in a class that looks just like you, or finding a group of students on campus – a lot of students, for example, work full-time or have to babysit," he said. "It's not that they don't want to get involved on campus, they just don't have the time to do so."

And those struggles have meant lower graduation rates for black and Latino students, those who're low-income and the first in their families to attend college.

Here at University of Illinois at Chicago, the percentage of white students graduating within six years was 60 percent for students who started in the year 2011.

For Hispanic students, just 49 percent graduated within six years – and black students only graduated at a rate of 44 percent.

"We see this as nothing short of a crisis," said Kyle Westbrook. "Insofar as the number of students that are leaving our college campuses with debt and no degree is a significant hindrance to those students' economic prospects down the line."

Westbrook says it's a problem throughout Illinois.

"In the state of Illinois, 7 out of 10 white students will graduate from their four-year universities with six years. Five out of 10 Latino students will graduate within that same period, and only 3 out of 10 African-American students will graduate within six years," he said.

Westbrook heads the Partnership for College Completion, a nonprofit working to get universities to close that gap.

"This is our best chance, our last best chance for low-income students to interrupt cycles of poverty that will continue to hamper our region's economy if we don't actually address it and this group of colleges and universities, stepping up, as part of the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative, are doing that," Westbrook said.

The just-launched initiative is an agreement between the Partnership for College Completion and 25 colleges and universities to close their respective graduation gaps by the year 2025.

UIC is on that list.

"It's an audacious goal. And it's a stretch goal," said UIC Chancellor Michael Amridis. "What we are all of us are going to gain out of this agreement, out of this partnership, is sharing common practices, understanding what the most recent research is, and hoping success."

Amridis says the university already does a lot to be sure its very diverse population of students graduate.

He puts the challenges in three main categories: financial aid, academic preparation, and a sense of belonging.

Something Baeza can certainly say he's found.

"I definitely do think that UIC is diverse and I tell people, I think that that's what's helped me, that I've found my group of friends, that I've found mentors," he said. "Finding those groups, and those people that are going to back you up throughout your time here at UIC."

Those who are addressing this problem agree. Ending the inequities in the college graduation rate in just seven years is a lofty goal.

"Even if an institution doesn't necessarily get there by 2025 … they can feel confident they're on the right road, and they're on the right path to closing those gaps," Westbrook said.

But at the very least, it's a place to start, by creating more graduates like Baeza.

More on this story

The Partnership for College Completion says the universities will spend the first year planning and sharing practices before implementing them to improve graduations rates.

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Illinois colleges, university work to help first-generation students graduate

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https://abc7chicago.com/education/illinois-colleges-university-work-to-help-first-generation-students-graduate/4394903/

By

Twenty-five Illinois colleges and universities are making an effort to improve the graduation rates for African American and Latino students.

Partnership for College Completion, a nonprofit that aims to provide more resources for first-generation college students, is bringing together the institutions to close the gap in college graduation rates. They are particularly focused on low income African-Americans and Latinos.

"African-American students and Latino students are graduating at significantly lower rates than white students and higher income students," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of Partnership for College Completion.

Erik Flynn is the first in his Latino family to go to college. His goal is to graduate in 4 years, but Flynn knows navigating the college process is challenging when it's completely new.

"Unlike high school or grammar school, I really just can't go to my parents and ask for help, it's more understanding what the college resources are for me," said Flynn, a freshman at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says the gap is not unique to Illinois. Chairman Catherine Lhamon says it's a nationwide problem.

"We heard very serious concerns about a student's ability to actually make it through colleges and understand and know what it takes to seek and secure financial aid," said Lhamon.

Students need help with navigating financial aid, as well as with personal situations and changing majors.

Northern Illinois University is being more proactive with information and resources for students, NIU's president Lisa Freeman says more must be done.

"We need to have high tech solutions that allow us to look at students that would otherwise fall through the cracks," said Freeman.

NIU is among the 25 Illinois Universities and colleges committed to ending the racial and socio-economic graduation rate gap by 2025.

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Initiative Aims To Close The State’s ‘Graduation Gap’

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https://will.illinois.edu/news/story/initiative-aims-to-close-the-states-graduation-gap

BY ANNA CASEY

Twenty-five colleges around the state have signed on to a new initiative aimed at increasing graduation rates among students from underserved communities.

The nonprofit Partnership for College Completion's Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative asks schools to develop a plan to increase graduation rates among students who are low-income, first generation or students of color.

"College completion rates have been very stagnant for a long time," said Lisa Castillo Richmond, director of the Partnership for College Completion. "That graduation gap between racial and socio-economic groups has been persistent, and in some places increasing."

Illinois has the fourth largest college completion gap between African-American and White students in the country, according to a report released by PCC last year. The report also found that 33 percent of African-American students complete a bachelor's degree in six years or less compared to 66 percent of White students. Latino students have a degree completion rate of 48 percent, according to the research.

To help address these inequities, the two and four-year institutions that are participating in the new initiative will be asked to meet "annual growth targets" for students from traditionally underserved populations and come up with solutions to help eliminate barriers to college completion.

Northern Illinois University is one of the participating schools. NIU President Lisa Freeman said about half of the student population at the DeKalb campus falls into groups that are more likely to experience an achievement gap.

"There is no gap in talent within those groups," Freeman said, "but there is an achievement gap and that's because, we believe, of cultural, navigational, financial and in some cases academic barriers."

One of those financial challenges is the availability of grants from the Monetary Award Program, the primary form of tuition support in the state. Richmond Castillo said the program was once a model for other states, but that it hasn't been funded adequately since 2002.

"MAP covers about 40 percent of the students who need it in the state," Castillo Richmond said. "It doesn't cover all the tuition and fees for all of the types of institutions that our students are attending. So affordability continues to be a big challenge."

Castillo Richmond said they intentionally included a variety of two-year and four-year institutions in their cohort of 25 schools. Each will have to develop a plan that includes creative solutions for low-income students to help pay for their education, and reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain a degree. The plans must be put into place by 2019, with the overall goal of closing the graduation gap by 2025.

Story source: WILL

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Letter: Illinois higher ed needs a makeover. But first, it needs money.

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Illinois' higher education could certainly use a "reinventing," as the Chicago Tribune's recent editorial calls for, but it also needs some reinvesting.

Since 2000, our high school graduates have increasingly moved out of state for college. And it's not just coincidence that our state's disinvestment in higher ed has been steady through administrations of both parties dating back to 2002.

We commend the University of Illinois for its bold investment in ensuring that there is a pathway into and through the state's flagship institute of higher education. However, too few of our state's public universities have the resources to be able to make such an offer, due to nearly two decades of funding cuts.

There is no doubt that in an enterprise as large as higher education in Illinois there is room for improved efficiency, and in every public agency we need to take a tough and open-minded look at ways to get the biggest bang for the taxpayer's buck. Possible consolidation of administrative functions and elimination of under-enrolled programs should be on the table, but we need to be mindful of what the impact would be on our students from low-income households who are especially reliant on our public universities.

The bottom line should be increasing opportunity by investing in our universities and the path to the middle class they represent, while being accountable for strong results and fiscal responsibility.

After all, when has disinvesting in education and limiting opportunity increased anything other than incarceration rates?

— Kyle Westbrook, executive director, The Partnership for College Completion


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AIM HIGH Shouldn’t be Need-Blind

The AIM HIGH grant pilot program, Illinois' new merit-based financial aid program, intends to slow the exodus of Illinois' high school graduates leaving to attend college in other states. The University of Alabama and the University of Nebraska, for example, like other universities in neighboring states, are offering Illinois students attractive merit-based financial aid packages that make leaving home for college an enticing option.

Due to Illinois' continued disinvestment in higher education, the two-year budget impasse, and declining enrollment in many of the state's four-year institutions, our state universities have had to rely more heavily on tuition increases to cover costs. Combined with the decreasing purchasing power of the need-based grant Monetary Award Program (MAP), Illinois colleges and universities have not been able to match the financial aid packages offered by out-of-state schools.

To incentivize Illinois' students to attend college in-state, the Higher Education Working Group, Illinois' first bipartisan, bicameral legislative working group focused on higher education, introduced Senate Bill 2927. The bill, signed by Governor Rauner in August 2018, created the AIM HIGH grant pilot program, a $25 million merit-based matching grant available to Illinois public four-year institutions. Each state university will be eligible to receive a pool of state funds in an amount determined by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) based on how many Illinois' residents the university enrolled in the previous academic year.

The legislature provided some guidelines for grant eligibility. At a minimum, to be eligible for an AIM HIGH award, students must be an Illinois resident, file a FAFSA, have a household income of no greater than six times the national poverty guideline—approximately $150,000 for a family of four, meet a minimum GPA or admissions test score as determined by the university campus, and enroll full-time. Each university campus can add additional "reasonable" eligibility criteria.

While this infusion of new money into our higher education system is commendable, as pointed out by Eric Jensen, President of Illinois Wesleyan University, in his recent op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, "The problem with allocating more merit-based aid when fighting an enrollment crisis is that merit-based scholarships favor students who can afford college anyway." Since MAP has not kept pace with tuition increases, over 50% of MAP-eligible students who otherwise might enroll in college do not receive a MAP award and those who do, often still have a significant gap between what aid covers and their true college costs. As a result, many MAP-eligible students may not be getting the financial support they need to attend college.

Fortunately, AIM HIGH gives universities one tool with which to address out-migration while being mindful of the affordability crisis Illinois' low-income students and families are facing throughout the state. Since the grant program gives institutions the discretion to determine how AIM HIGH funds will be allocated among all eligible students on their campus, universities have the opportunity to prioritize access for the neediest students first. In addition to delegating scholarship funds amongst a racially diverse range of students, institutions should allocate the largest awards to students with the lowest Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). By filling in where MAP awards are falling short, or are absent altogether, the AIM HIGH grant program can be leveraged to increase enrollment and persistence for our state's low-income students, whose alternative may be debt, or in the worst cases, nowhere at all.


Contact:
Emily Goldman
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Returning Students to Receive Priority Access to MAP Grants

Yesterday the Governor signed HB5020, giving eligible low-income college students who receive need-based state financial aid priority access to an award in the following year. Under this new bill, beginning with the 2020-21 academic school year, Monetary Award Program (MAP) applicants who received a MAP award the prior year and who complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by a pre-determined priority date, are guaranteed to receive a renewed grant. The bill has gained attention from the higher education community and college students alike, many calling it the "four-year MAP bill."

While HB5020 is an important step forward, true financial security will require a commitment by the state to fully fund need-based state aid to ensure that all eligible students, new and returning, can access and persist at any public college or university in the state. HB5020 will make it easier for returning students to secure MAP awards, but for the reasons that follow, a renewed grant is not guaranteed.

Here's what you need to know about HB5020:

  • Renewing applicants must complete their FAFSA by the priority deadline. The bill requires the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) to annually publish a deadline by which renewing applicants must complete their FAFSA to receive priority funding. While missing the priority deadline does not mean the applicant is ineligible for a renewed grant, renewal will depend on the availability of MAP funds at the time of FAFSA application.
  • Applicants must continue to meet eligibility requirements. To qualify for a renewed MAP grant, applicants must continue to meet eligibility requirements including demonstrated financial need as determined by each applicant's Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) and not being in default on any student loan.
  • First-time applicants might not receive an award.Until the state fully funds MAP to cover all eligible students, there is no guarantee an eligible student will receive a MAP award in year one, or any year thereafter. It's important for applicants to file a FAFSA early since MAP is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

HB5020 gives students and their families a sense of financial security and helps Illinois provide more competitive financial aid packages to keep students in the state and on-track to degree completion. However, it is important to understand the bill's provisions. More advocacy will be needed to ensure all eligible students receive a MAP award to cover the cost of college.

If you or your student will be attending college in academic year 2020-21, put October 1, 2019 in your calendar. This is the approximate date ISAC will be publishing the priority deadline for FAFSA submission for renewing applicants. And for first-time applicants, remember to apply early! If you have additional questions, please reference ISAC's HB5020 student Q&A here.

Contact:
Emily Goldman
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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College for the Disadvantaged

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Opinion | College for the Disadvantaged | The New York Times |
Read the Partnership's published comment to a recent article by New York Times columnist David Leonhardt on flat college degree completion rates despite significant increases in college enrollment for our lowest income students. 

LISA CASTILLO RICHMOND
CHICAGO

The writer is managing director of the Partnership for College Completion.

To the Editor:

David Leonhardt calls for new approaches to support underrepresented students in completing college degrees. These approaches focus on what happens when a young person gets to a college campus. We should not overlook successful existing strategies that bring the college campus directly to young people, in their communities and without cutting corners.

Early college — embedding as much as two years of tuition-free college during public high school — is one such strategy. In Bard College's network of public early colleges, more than 75 percent of first-generation students finish high school with Bard associate's degrees, tuition free. In these programs, the often-difficult transition from high school to college happens seamlessly and under one roof.

This work is built on a simple premise: that institutions of higher education should adapt to students, not the other way around. Alarming inequities in college-degree completion compel us to rethink where and when college learning happens. We have found that early college in public high schools is a great place to start.

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Illinois Makes Paying For College Harder for Low-Income Students, But We Can Fix That

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Article | Illinois Makes Paying For College Harder for Low-Income Students, But We Can Fix That | Education Post |

A dizzying array of statistics illustrates this disturbing trend. Our public colleges and universities are meant to be engines of upward economic mobility, but too often are unable to lift up low-income and first-generation students. In fact, the chances of a low-income student actually graduating from college today are only marginally better than they were 30 years ago.

A large percentage of these students are African-American and Latino. For these students of color, Illinois' system of higher education reinforces racial inequality, prevents social mobility and widens the chasm between the haves and have-nots.

In 1991, I was admitted to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

My mother worked as a telephone operator and didn't have the money to pay the $3,000 in yearly tuition. But the cost wasn't a barrier for me, because I was considered a low-income student and qualified for financial aid.

After the grants and scholarships, I had to come up with just $186—money I made by working summers as a van driver—and was deeply grateful that my college education was virtually free.

With my degree, I became a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher and lifelong educator, and I entered the middle class—in large part because of those grants and scholarships.

THE PATH THAT ALLOWED ME TO ATTEND COLLEGE IS NO LONGER OPEN TO OTHER LOW-INCOME STUDENTSBut as I look around today in Illinois, I see that the path that allowed me to attend college is no longer open to other low-income students.

THE DOOR IS CLOSING

In 2017, a student with the same economic profile that I had as a teenager would owe about $13,000 per year. Put simply, a public university education in Illinois is no longer the on-ramp to the middle class.

A dizzying array of statistics illustrates this disturbing trend. Our public colleges and universities are meant to be engines of upward economic mobility, but too often are unable to lift up low-income and first-generation students. In fact, the chances of a low-income student actually graduating from college today are only marginally better than they were 30 years ago.

A large percentage of these students are African-American and Latino. For these students of color, Illinois' system of higher education reinforces racial inequality, prevents social mobility and widens the chasm between the haves and have-nots.

While a staggering number of high school graduates have been leaving the state to attend college elsewhere (Illinois ranks second to worst in the nation for net outward migration of college freshmen, according to 2014 data), many low-income students don't have that option. Instead, a dismaying number are being pushed out of the system entirely and being denied pathways to college.

Consider these statistics from our new report that paints a picture of the crisis in Illinois higher education:

  • Between 2011 and 2015, African-American undergraduate enrollment in two-year and four-year public institutions dropped 25 percent.
  • The cost of attending our public universities has risen dramatically over the years, with average in-state tuition and fees ranking as the fifth-highest in the nation in fiscal year 2016. Yet Illinois was one of just four states that actually cut funding for higher education over the last two fiscal years, by a whopping 68 percent.
  • Those cuts left more than 160,000 low-income students—about half of all those eligible—without much-needed state tuition grants in 2016. The impact on students of color was significant, since more than half of Black and Latino undergraduates at public universities rely on those grants from the state's Monetary Award Program.
WE NEED MORE OF THIS

Last week marked our launch of a series of round-tables with education leaders and stakeholders, to share the new report with its dismaying statistics, and to help move our state toward effective policy solutions.

WITHOUT SUCH DRASTIC ACTION, ILLINOIS WILL NEVER REACH THE AMBITIOUS TARGET SET BY LEADERS AND POLICYMAKERSWithout such drastic action, Illinois will never reach the ambitious target set by leaders and policymakers: to have 60 percent of working adults hold a degree or credential by 2025.

There's real evidence of programs that work toward that goal. Colleges and universities across the country, and some progressive states, are making college more affordable by funding scholarships, offering free tuition and streamlining transfers for students moving from community college to four-year colleges and universities. Students who attend a community college for their first two years can save substantially on overall college costs.

Governors State University, for example, offers a dual-degree program and scholarship for qualifying students who are enrolled full time at Chicagoland community colleges and who transfer to Governors State.

The City Colleges of Chicago STAR Scholarship Program, which provides free tuition to college-ready CPS students—many of them undocumented–has since forged a partnership with 20 area colleges and universities to streamline transfers and provide scholarships for transfer students.

And the College of Lake County Promise Program provides funding for college-ready low-income students living in the community college district who have unmet financial need.

We need more programs like these that marshal resources in a coordinated effort.

Most critically, however, Illinois must increase state investment in financial aid for low-income students, and in funding for higher education in general.

Making college affordable and removing unnecessary barriers to completion is essential to the economic, social and civic health of our state.

The time is now to develop a bold plan for higher education equity in Illinois. Nothing less than the livelihood and happiness of generations of Illinois residents depend on us getting this right.

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Public Universities Increasingly Out of Reach for Illinois’ Low-income Students

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Article | Public Universities Increasingly Out of Reach for Illinois' Low-Income Students | The Chicago Reporter |      

A large percentage of these students are African American and Latino. For these students of color, Illinois' system of higher education reinforces racial inequality, prevents social mobility and widens the chasm between the haves and have-nots.

While a staggering number of high school graduates have been leaving the state to attend college elsewhere (Illinois ranks second to worst in the nation for net outward migration of college freshmen, according to 2014 data), many low-income students don't have that option.

Kyle Westbrook 
October 2, 2017

In 1991, I was admitted to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

My mother worked as a telephone operator and didn't have the money to pay the $3,000 in yearly tuition. But the cost wasn't a barrier for me, because I was considered a low-income student and qualified for financial aid.

After the grants and scholarships, I had to come up with just $186 – money I made by working summers as a van driver – and was deeply grateful that my college education was virtually free.

With my degree, I became a Chicago Public Schools teacher and lifelong educator, and I entered the middle class – in large part, because of those grants and scholarships.

But as I look around today in Illinois, I see that the path that allowed me to attend college is no longer open to other low-income students.

In 2017, a student with the same economic profile that I had as a teenager would owe about $13,000 per year. Put simply, a public university education in Illinois is no longer the on-ramp to the middle class.

A dizzying array of statistics illustrates this disturbing trend. Our public colleges and universities are meant to be engines of upward economic mobility, but too often are unable to lift up low-income and first-generation students. In fact, the chances of a low-income student actually graduating from college today are only marginally better than they were 30 years ago.

A large percentage of these students are African American and Latino. For these students of color, Illinois' system of higher education reinforces racial inequality, prevents social mobility and widens the chasm between the haves and have-nots.

While a staggering number of high school graduates have been leaving the state to attend college elsewhere (Illinois ranks second to worst in the nation for net outward migration of college freshmen, according to 2014 data), many low-income students don't have that option. Instead, a dismaying number are being pushed out of the system entirely and being denied pathways to college.

Consider these statistics from our new report that paints a picture of the crisis in Illinois higher education:

–Between 2011 and 2015, African American undergraduate enrollment in two-year and four-year public institutions dropped 25 percent.

–The cost of attending our public universities has risen dramatically over the years, with average in-state tuition and fees ranking as the fifth-highest in the nation in fiscal year 2016. Yet Illinois was one of just four states that actually cut funding for higher education over the last two fiscal years, by a whopping 68 percent.

–Those cuts left more than 160,000 low-income students–about half of all those eligible–without much-needed state tuition grants in 2016. The impact on students of color was significant, since more than half of black and Latino undergraduates at public universities rely on those grants from the state's Monetary Award Program.

Last week marked our launch of a series of round-tables with education leaders and stakeholders, to share the new report with its dismaying statistics, and to help move our state toward effective policy solutions.

Without such drastic action, Illinois will never reach the ambitious target set by leaders and policymakers: To have 60 percent of working adults hold a degree or credential by 2025.

There's real evidence of programs that work toward that goal. Colleges and universities across the country, and some progressive states, are making college more affordable by funding scholarships, offering free tuition, and streamlining transfers for students moving from community college to four-year colleges and universities. Students who attend a community college for their first two years can save substantially on overall college costs.

Governors State University, for example, offers a dual degree program and scholarship for qualifying students who are enrolled full-time at Chicagoland community colleges and who transfer to Governors State.

The City Colleges of Chicago STAR Scholarship Program, which provides free tuition to college-ready Chicago Public Schools students—many of them undocumented—has since forged a partnership with 20 area colleges and universities to streamline transfers and provide scholarships for transfer students.

And the College of Lake County Promise Program provides funding for college-ready low-income students living in the community college district who have unmet financial need.

We need more programs like these that marshal resources in a coordinated effort.

Most critically, however, Illinois must increase state investment in financial aid for low-income students, and in funding for higher education in general.

Making college affordable and removing unnecessary barriers to completion is essential to the economic, social and civic health of our state.

The time is now to develop a bold plan for higher education equity in Illinois. Nothing less than the livelihood and happiness of generations of Illinois residents depend on us getting this right.

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Degrees out of reach for many low-income Illinois students

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 Article | Degrees out of reach for many low-income Illinois students | The Times |         

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois' in-state college tuition and fees ranked fifth highest in the U.S. last year, and a new report says those costs are a major reason that degrees are increasingly out of reach for low-income students.

Data from 2014 show low-income families in Illinois must set aside 63 percent of their total income for a student to attend a four-year institution, according to a report from The Partnership for College Completion. Middle-class families must set aside 25 percent, the study found.

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois' in-state college tuition and fees ranked fifth highest in the U.S. last year, and a new report says those costs are a major reason that degrees are increasingly out of reach for low-income students.

Data from 2014 show low-income families in Illinois must set aside 63 percent of their total income for a student to attend a four-year institution, according to a report from The Partnership for College Completion. Middle-class families must set aside 25 percent, the study found.

Executive Director Kyle Westbrook told WBEZ-FM the high costs contribute to lagging graduation rates among low-income students and students of color, even within the more affordable community college system. He said the graduation gap isn't unique to Illinois but that the state has faced greater challenges as its proportion of low-income students has grown.

"About 50 percent of our state's elementary and high school students are low income, and that brings with them some significant challenges as well as lack of resources when they are able to move into higher education," Westbrook said.

The report also found that Illinois was one of four states that cut higher education funding over the last two years, a year-to-year difference of 68 percent. Those cuts took place during the state's budget impasse.

About half of students eligible for need-based tuition help through Illinois' Monetary Award Program, or MAP, didn't' receive it because of insufficient state funding.

This year looks better for higher education in Illinois as lawmakers allocated about $1.1 billion for public universities following the budget impasse's resolution. The state also increased funding for MAP grants by 10 percent.

The organization's director of strategy, Lisa Castillo Richmond, said states and institutions that set goals to close the disparity gap have made progress.

"They're really focusing on increasing attainment overall, eliminating achievement gaps, racial achievement gaps and socio-economic achievement gaps," Castillo Richmond said. "And that's where they're seeing movement."

Illinois set a goal to increase the percentage of adults with a career credential or post-secondary degree to 60 percent by 2025. The Partnership for College Completion says about 50 percent had a college or career credential as of 2015.

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College degrees are out-of-reach for many low-income Illinois students

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 Article | College degrees are out-of-reach for many low-income Illinois students | SaukValley.com |     

About half of students eligible for need-based tuition help through Illinois' Monetary Award Program, or MAP, didn't' receive it because of insufficient state funding.

This year looks better for higher education in Illinois as lawmakers allocated about $1.1 billion for public universities following the budget impasse's resolution. The state also increased funding for MAP grants by 10 percent.

CHICAGO (AP) – Illinois' in-state college tuition and fees ranked fifth highest in the U.S. last year, and a new report says those costs are a major reason that degrees are increasingly out-of-reach for low-income students.

Data from 2014 show low-income families in Illinois must set aside 63 percent of their total income for a student to attend a 4-year institution, according to a report from The Partnership for College Completion. Middle-class families must set aside 25 percent, the study found.

Executive Director Kyle Westbrook told WBEZ-FM the high costs contribute to lagging graduation rates among low-income students and students of color, even within the more affordable community college system. He said the graduation gap isn't unique to Illinois but that the state has faced greater challenges as its proportion of low-income students has grown.

"About 50 percent of our state's elementary and high school students are low income, and that brings with them some significant challenges as well as lack of resources when they are able to move into higher education," Westbrook said.

The report also found that Illinois was one of four states that cut higher education funding over the past 2 years, a year-to-year difference of 68 percent. Those cuts took place during the state's budget impasse.

About half of students eligible for need-based tuition help through Illinois' Monetary Award Program, or MAP, didn't' receive it because of insufficient state funding.

This year looks better for higher education in Illinois as lawmakers allocated about
$1.1 billion for public universities following the budget impasse's resolution. The state also increased funding for MAP grants by 10 percent.

The organization's director of strategy, Lisa Castillo Richmond, said states and institutions that set goals to close the disparity gap have made progress.

"They're really focusing on increasing attainment overall, eliminating achievement gaps, racial achievement gaps and socio-economic achievement gaps," Castillo Richmond said. "And that's where they're seeing movement."

Illinois set a goal to increase the percentage of adults with a career credential or post-secondary degree to 60 percent by 2025. The Partnership for College Completion says about 50 percent had a college or career credential as of 2015.

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Degrees out-of-reach for many low-income Illinois students

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Article | Degrees out-of-reach for many low-income Illinois students | WBEZ-FM / KWQC |     

The Partnership for College Completion reports data from 2014 show low-income families in Illinois must set aside 63 percent of their total income for a student to attend a four-year institution.

Executive Director Kyle Westbrook tells WBEZ-FM the high costs are contributing to lagging graduation rates among low-income students and students of color, even within the more affordable community college system.

CHICAGO (AP) – Illinois' in-state college tuition and fees rank fifth highest in the U.S., and a new report says those costs are a major reason degrees are increasingly out-of-reach for low-income students.

The Partnership for College Completion reports data from 2014 show low-income families in Illinois must set aside 63 percent of their total income for a student to attend a four-year institution. Middle-class families must set aside 25 percent.

Executive Director Kyle Westbrook tells WBEZ-FM the high costs are contributing to lagging graduation rates among low-income students and students of color, even within the more affordable community college system.

This year looks better for higher education in Illinois as lawmakers allocated about $1.1 billion dollars for public universities following the budget impasse's resolution.

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College Diploma Out-of-Reach For Growing Number Of Low-Income Illinois Students

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Article | College Diploma Out-of-Reach For Growing Number of Low-Income Illinois Students | WBEZ |     

A new report finds rising cost of Illinois colleges and lack of aid is making enrollment and graduation harder for low-income students. 

The report also finds that Illinois was one of just four states that cut funding for higher education over the last two years, a year-to-year difference of 68 percent. The cuts took place during the state's protracted budget impasse. In addition, about half of the students eligible for need-based state MAP grants didn't receive the financial award because of insufficient funding.

Susie An
September 26, 2017

Aileen Ramirez, a fourth-year student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, plans to graduate next fall and possibly go on to get her master's degree in social work. But UIC wasn't Ramirez's first — or even second — choice.

After cobbling together scholarships and other aid, it was the best school she could afford.

"My parents always told me, 'Try to have good grades so you can get some scholarships. That way you don't struggle, and we don't struggle, trying to pay for school,'" Ramirez said.

Ramirez said her parents couldn't help her pay for school. Her father works at a suburban warehouse and her mother isn't working now. Her parents also care for two younger siblings. Ramirez also lives at home to cut down on expenses.

Despite her challenges, Ramirez considers herself one of the lucky ones. With her patchwork of scholarships, she's managed to make it to college and is approaching graduation. But for many other low-income students in Illinois, a college diploma is increasingly out of reach, according to a new reported released Tuesday by the Partnership for College Completion, or PCC.

The Chicago-based organization found that while middle-class families in Illinois need to set aside a quarter of their total income for a student to attend a four-year institution, low-income families need to set aside 63 percent, according to data from 2014.

PCC also reported that Illinois ranked fifth highest in the country for in-state tuition and fees during fiscal year 2016 as part of its review of public data and published studies on higher education in Illinois.

Kyle Westbrook, founding executive director of PCC, said those costs are contributing to lagging graduation rates among low-income students and students of color, even within the more affordable community college system. Though that graduation gap isn't unique to Illinois, the state has faced greater hurdles as its proportion of low-income students has grown.

"About 50 percent of our state's elementary and high school students are low income, and that brings with them some significant challenges as well as lack of resources when they are able to move into higher education," Westbrook said.

The report also found that Illinois was one of just four states that cut funding for higher education over the last two years, a year-to-year difference of 68 percent. The cuts took place during the state's protracted budget impasse. In addition, about half of the students eligible for need-based state MAP grants didn't receive the financial award because of insufficient funding. And even if all eligible students received the grant money in 2016, the PCC report found that the average in-state tuition and fee rate increasingly outpaced the maximum MAP awards.

This year looks better for higher education in Illinois. Following the resolution of the budget impasse this summer, lawmakers set aside about $1.1 billion dollars for public universities for this year, about the same amount they received over the last two years. This year's budget also increases funding for MAP grants by 10 percent.

Still, PCC said the state Legislature needs to do more to invest in higher education for low-income students to keep talent in state and to make up for lost ground. The study also found that Illinois has the second largest population of students going out of state for college.

Lisa Castillo Richmond, director of strategy at PCC, said states and institutions that set goals to close the disparity gap have made progress.

"They're really focusing on increasing attainment overall, eliminating achievement gaps, racial achievement gaps and socioeconomic achievement gaps. And that's where they're seeing movement," Castillo Richmond said.

Illinois aims to increase the proportion of adult residents with a post-secondary degree or career credential to 60 percent by 2025. So far, the state is lagging behind that goal. As of 2015, some 50 percent had a college or career credential, according to PCC.

Susie An is a WBEZ reporter.

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