Wealthy parents reportedly giving up custody of kids to get need-based financial aid

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https://abc7chicago.com/education/suburban-parents-reportedly-giving-up-custody-of-kids-to-get-financial-aid/5430078/

JUL 31, 2019
- ABC 7 Chicago; KGO-TV

CHICAGO -- Wealthy suburban parents in the Chicago area are using a legal loophole in order to get their children more need-based financial aid, according to a report by ProPublica Illinois.

The report discovered dozens or more cases where parents hired lawyers to petition the court to turn over guardianship to a friend or relative so the student could be declared financially independent and qualify for financial aid.

ProPublica Illinois reporter Jody Cohen said she sifted through 1,800 probate petitions from 2018 and 2019, but more than 40 guardianship petitions stood out to her.

They were formal petitions filed by lawyers on behalf of well-to-do parents who were, for example, doctors and real estate agents in suburbs like Buffalo Grove and Deerfield, giving up custody of their kids during their junior or senior year of high school.

In response, the Department of Education is suggesting changes be made to close the loop hole.

It's adding language that says if a student enters into a legal guardianship, but continues to receive financial and medical support from their parents, they are still a dependent student.

While the practice of doing this is a loophole, it is not illegal. But it sparks an ethical problem if financial aid is limited and takes away from a potential student with a real need.

Kyle Westbrook leads the Partnership for College Completion, an advocacy organization for improving college outcomes for low income students.

"We think of it as hundreds of thousands of dollars that should have gone to low-income students and likely the difference between some students going to college and not going," said Westbrook.

Last year, more than 80,000 students who were eligible didn't get the aid because the money ran out.

For low income students that could mean the decision not to go to college.

VIDEO: Wealthy parents reportedly giving up custody of kids to get need-based financial aid

Wealthy suburban parents in the Chicago area are using a legal loophole in order to get their children more need-based financial aid, according to a report by ProPublica Illinois.

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Suburban parents reportedly giving up custody of kids to get need-based financial aid

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https://chicagocrusader.com/suburban-parents-reportedly-giving-up-custody-of-kids-to-get-need-based-financial-aid/

JUL 31, 2019
- ABC 7 Chicago as appears in Chicago Crusader

Wealthy suburban parents in the Chicago area are using a legal loophole in order to get their children more need-based financial aid, according to a report by ProPublica Illinois.

The report discovered dozens or more cases where parents hired lawyers to petition the court to turn over guardianship to a friend or relative so the student could be declared financially independent and qualify for financial aid.

ProPublica Illinois reporter Jody Cohen said she sifted through 1,800 probate petitions from 2018 and 2019, but more than 40 guardianship petitions stood out to her.

They were formal petitions filed by lawyers on behalf of well-to-do parents who were, for example, doctors and real estate agents in suburbs like Buffalo Grove and Deerfield, giving up custody of their kids during their junior or senior year of high school.

In response, the Department of Education is suggesting changes be made to close the loop hole.

It's adding language that says if a student enters into a legal guardianship, but continues to receive financial and medical support from their parents, they are still a dependent student.

While the practice of doing this is a loophole, it is not illegal. But it sparks an ethical problem if financial aid is limited and takes away from a potential student with a real need.

Kyle Westbrook leads the Partnership for College Completion, an advocacy organization for improving college outcomes for low income students.

"We think of it as hundreds of thousands of dollars that should have gone to low-income students and likely the difference between some students going to college and not going," said Westbrook.

Last year, more than 80,000 students who were eligible didn't get the aid because the money ran out.

For low income students that could mean the decision not to go to college.


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Suburban parents reportedly giving up custody of kids to get need-based financial aid

58128_wls_abc7chicago-blue-img

https://abc7chicago.com/education/suburban-parents-reportedly-giving-up-custody-of-kids-to-get-financial-aid/5430078/

JUL 30, 2019
- ABC 7 Chicago; WLS-TV

Wealthy suburban parents in the Chicago area are using a legal loophole in order to get their children more need-based financial aid, according to a report by ProPublica Illinois.

The report discovered dozens or more cases where parents hired lawyers to petition the court to turn over guardianship to a friend or relative so the student could be declared financially independent and qualify for financial aid.


ProPublica Illinois reporter Jody Cohen said she sifted through 1,800 probate petitions from 2018 and 2019, but more than 40 guardianship petitions stood out to her.

They were formal petitions filed by lawyers on behalf of well-to-do parents who were, for example, doctors and real estate agents in suburbs like Buffalo Grove and Deerfield, giving up custody of their kids during their junior or senior year of high school. 

In response, the Department of Education is suggesting changes be made to close the loop hole.

It's adding language that says if a student enters into a legal guardianship, but continues to receive financial and medical support from their parents, they are still a dependent student.

While the practice of doing this is a loophole, it is not illegal. But it sparks an ethical problem if financial aid is limited and takes away from a potential student with a real need.

Kyle Westbrook leads the Partnership for College Completion, an advocacy organization for improving college outcomes for low income students.

"We think of it as hundreds of thousands of dollars that should have gone to low-income students and likely the difference between some students going to college and not going," said Westbrook.

Last year, more than 80,000 students who were eligible didn't get the aid because the money ran out.

For low income students that could mean the decision not to go to college.

...

Why Wealthy Parents Are Giving Up Custody of Their Kids - YouTube

Wealthy suburban parents in the Chicago area are using a legal loophole in order to get their children more need-based financial aid, according to a report b...

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Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Economic Development Committees met March 25

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https://chicagocitywire.com/stories/512777979-chicago-metropolitan-agency-for-planning-economic-development-committees-met-march-25#

JUL 22, 2019​
- Chicago City Wire

None of the Chicago-area four-year public universities, as of 2016, has been able to graduate more than half of their Black and Latinx students.

The Partnership for College Completion shared this and other findings in a report released Thursday based on a regional study of college enrollment and graduation rates for slow-income and minority students in and around Chicago.

The seven-county Chicago area is home to 54 schools – including public, private, non-profit two- and four- year institutions – which enroll 319,000 undergraduates.

"One of our goals as an organization and in our work is, number one, lifting up data, research and information to really highlight the college completion crisis in the state of Illinois, and that reflects a broader college-completion crisis across the country," said Lisa Castillo Richmond, the managing director of the Partnership for College Completion. "We want to drive action."

While many reports explore national trends in college enrollment and completion, this report is unique in its local focus, analyzing data county by county.

"We're really interested in hyper-localizing issues of reform," said Kyle Westbrook, the executive director of Partnership for College Completion. "We do feel really strongly that most of the changes that we need to see happen will happen at the state and local level, where folks are closer to the issues, closer to the solutions and closer to our students."

Based on data from financial-aid applicants in the region, among other sources, the study found that a large number of students from the Chicago area are leaving the state for college, or debating whether to attend college at all because of affordability concerns.

Out of 70,000 local applicants who apply each year, only 2,600 students of color graduated in the Chicago area in 2017. While White applicants complete college within six years at a rate of 68 percent, low-income Black and FAFSA filers have six-year completion rates at 30 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

Westbrook said state legislators are concerned about enrollment. Applications at public universities in the Chicago area increased by only half the rate of the national average between 2011 and 2016.

But they've been so focused on addressing out-migration – students leaving the Chicago area for college – that they've ignored local students struggling to afford Chicago schools. FAFSA filers with the least financial need were three times more likely to leave the state for college. White students were the most likely to leave the state for college, while Latinx students were least likely.

"There's a pool of students and a pool of talent in this state that aren't just going out of state for college," Westbrook said. "They're not going to attend at all. We're leaving a lot of talent on the table because of the state's slow and steady disinvestment in higher education."

The report describes a lack of funding for Monetary Award Program grants, the state's financial aid system for low-income students. The study found that nearly 60,000 eligible students apply for these awards and don't receive them because there isn't enough aid to go around. Grants also cover fewer costs.

The program used to fully cover a student's attendance costs. Now, it covers only two-thirds of the cost of attendance at community colleges and one-third of the cost at public universities.

The report recommends a series of policy changes at the college and state level based on the study's findings. It encourages institutions to weigh GPAs more heavily than standardized test scores in admissions, since prioritizing scores puts low-income students and students of color with less test preparation resources at a disadvantage.

The study found that 58 percent of African-American financial aid applicants and 41 percent of Latino students scored in the lowest ACT category. The report calls on the state to fully fund all eligible MAP applicants and direct funds away from for-profits, which account for 34 percent of student loan debt while serving only 8 percent of Illinois' college students.

To push some of its policy goals forward, the Partnership for College Completion started the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative, a coalition of 27 Chicago-area higher learning institutions that have committed to create equity plans with the organization's help. The group meets twice a year to discuss shared problems and work on setting benchmarks.

Richmond finds the initiative a reason for hope.

"They're taking a deep look internally at how they're organized and who they're supporting and how," she said.

At the state level, there have been promising changes, as well. This year, the state allocated another $50 million to MAP grants, praised in the report as a step in the right direction.

"We are optimistic but we also don't think it's time to take the goal posts down and pat ourselves on the back," Westbrook said. "We're at the very beginning of what we hope will be a long-term investment in resources and attention to the equity issues that our state faces."

Sara Weissman can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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New Report Finds Stark Inequity in Chicago Higher Education

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https://diverseeducation.com/article/150055/

JUL 18, 2019​
- Diverse: Issues In Higher Education

None of the Chicago-area four-year public universities, as of 2016, has been able to graduate more than half of their Black and Latinx students.

The Partnership for College Completion shared this and other findings in a report released Thursday based on a regional study of college enrollment and graduation rates for slow-income and minority students in and around Chicago.

The seven-county Chicago area is home to 54 schools – including public, private, non-profit two- and four- year institutions – which enroll 319,000 undergraduates.

"One of our goals as an organization and in our work is, number one, lifting up data, research and information to really highlight the college completion crisis in the state of Illinois, and that reflects a broader college-completion crisis across the country," said Lisa Castillo Richmond, the managing director of the Partnership for College Completion. "We want to drive action."

While many reports explore national trends in college enrollment and completion, this report is unique in its local focus, analyzing data county by county.

"We're really interested in hyper-localizing issues of reform," said Kyle Westbrook, the executive director of Partnership for College Completion. "We do feel really strongly that most of the changes that we need to see happen will happen at the state and local level, where folks are closer to the issues, closer to the solutions and closer to our students."

Based on data from financial-aid applicants in the region, among other sources, the study found that a large number of students from the Chicago area are leaving the state for college, or debating whether to attend college at all because of affordability concerns.

Out of 70,000 local applicants who apply each year, only 2,600 students of color graduated in the Chicago area in 2017. While White applicants complete college within six years at a rate of 68 percent, low-income Black and FAFSA filers have six-year completion rates at 30 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

Westbrook said state legislators are concerned about enrollment. Applications at public universities in the Chicago area increased by only half the rate of the national average between 2011 and 2016.

But they've been so focused on addressing out-migration – students leaving the Chicago area for college – that they've ignored local students struggling to afford Chicago schools. FAFSA filers with the least financial need were three times more likely to leave the state for college. White students were the most likely to leave the state for college, while Latinx students were least likely.

"There's a pool of students and a pool of talent in this state that aren't just going out of state for college," Westbrook said. "They're not going to attend at all. We're leaving a lot of talent on the table because of the state's slow and steady disinvestment in higher education."

The report describes a lack of funding for Monetary Award Program grants, the state's financial aid system for low-income students. The study found that nearly 60,000 eligible students apply for these awards and don't receive them because there isn't enough aid to go around. Grants also cover fewer costs.

The program used to fully cover a student's attendance costs. Now, it covers only two-thirds of the cost of attendance at community colleges and one-third of the cost at public universities.

The report recommends a series of policy changes at the college and state level based on the study's findings. It encourages institutions to weigh GPAs more heavily than standardized test scores in admissions, since prioritizing scores puts low-income students and students of color with less test preparation resources at a disadvantage.

The study found that 58 percent of African-American financial aid applicants and 41 percent of Latino students scored in the lowest ACT category. The report calls on the state to fully fund all eligible MAP applicants and direct funds away from for-profits, which account for 34 percent of student loan debt while serving only 8 percent of Illinois' college students.

To push some of its policy goals forward, the Partnership for College Completion started the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative, a coalition of 27 Chicago-area higher learning institutions that have committed to create equity plans with the organization's help. The group meets twice a year to discuss shared problems and work on setting benchmarks.

Richmond finds the initiative a reason for hope.

"They're taking a deep look internally at how they're organized and who they're supporting and how," she said.

At the state level, there have been promising changes, as well. This year, the state allocated another $50 million to MAP grants, praised in the report as a step in the right direction.

"We are optimistic but we also don't think it's time to take the goal posts down and pat ourselves on the back," Westbrook said. "We're at the very beginning of what we hope will be a long-term investment in resources and attention to the equity issues that our state faces."

Sara Weissman can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Access and Affordability Limiting Equitable College Enrollment, Achievement in Chicago Region

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http://www.lawndalenews.com/2019/07/access-and-affordability-limiting-equitable-college-enrollment-achievement-in-chicago-region/

JUL 18, 2019​
Ashmar Mandou - Lawndale News

College enrollment and completion in the Chicago area is being limited by access and cost issues tied to race, family wealth and income, and the availability of financial aid, according to a new report released today by the Partnership for College Completion (PCC). The report, College-Going and Completion in the Chicago Area: A Regional Analysis, breaks ground in examining enrollment, attainment, and completion in the seven-county metropolitan Chicago area, using a number of sources including a unique regional analysis of data from financial aid applicants. The report finds that despite a diverse pool of more than 70,000 college-going applicants from this region every year, more than 40 percent of whom are Black or Latino, the local four-year public universities together produced only 2,600 degrees for students of color in 2017. PCC urges administrators, educators and policymakers to prioritize higher education access and affordability with a concentration on equity to ensure the future prosperity of the region and state.

College-Going and Completion in the Chicago Area focuses on the students from and attending college in the Midwest's hub of economic opportunity, where two decades of state disinvestment in students and institutions has affected the seven-county region's 54 public and private nonprofit two- and four-year colleges and the 319,000 undergraduate students they enroll. As a result, the report finds high prices for four-year colleges and declining numbers of students attending college in the region or deciding not to pursue higher education at all, together underscoring the challenge of wide access to high-quality postsecondary opportunities. The report proposes bold equity-focused policy ideas that include: revising college admissions standards to increase the weight of GPA over ACT/SAT test scores, which disadvantage low-income students and students of color; restoring full funding of the Monetary Award Program (MAP), which provides grants to low-income students and now covers only two-thirds of the cost of attendance at community colleges and one-third of the cost at public universities for less than half of eligible students; and, stopping the flow of state aid to for-profit colleges.


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Report Highlights Higher Ed Inequity In Chicagoland

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https://www.northernpublicradio.org/post/report-highlights-higher-ed-inequity-chicagoland

JUL 17, 2019​
PETER MEDLIN - WNIU News

Even with Chicagoland students in the same income range, white students have a much greater chance of getting a degree than students of color.

That's according to a new report from the non-profit Partnership for College Completion. The group just released a report highlighting college access and success disparities in northern Illinois.

It finds gaps exist regardless of academics and have more to do with race and family income levels.

More than 70,000 college-goers applied for financial aid in the region in 2017. More than 40% were black or Latino. But in that year, students of color received fewer than 3,000 degrees at local public four-year universities.

The report recommends institutional changes at schools like remedial education and advising reforms, and also policies like increases in need-based financial aid -- especially because of the first-come first-served nature of MAP grants.

"This absolutely has a disproportionate impact on students who are the first in their family to go to college, of course, low-income students, and students who are attending high schools that aren't as well equipped to make sure that students know how to complete FAFSA and know that they have to complete it very early," said Lisa Castillo Richmond, Managing Director of the PCC.

According to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, over 100,000 Illinois students every year who are eligible for MAP funding receive nothing.

The report also talks about Illinois' issues with students leaving the state for college.

"We are also concerned about the students that are applying for financial aid and applying to college and then at the time of matriculation or are not showing up at any institution, whether it's inside or outside of the state," said Castillo Richmond. "And we think of this as the more acute challenge for the state."

Among FAFSA-filing students, white students are the most likely to leave while Latino students are by far the least likely to leave the state.



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NIU primed to tackle racial and economic inequities in graduation rates

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https://www.niutoday.info/2019/04/24/%EF%BB%BFniu-primed-to-tackle-racial-and-economic-inequities-in-graduation-rates/

APR 24, 2019
- NIU Today (Print​)

Identifying equity as a top priority, NIU aims to close graduation gaps for students of color, first-generation college-goers and low-income students.

University leaders, including NIU President Lisa Freeman, recently joined representatives from 25 community colleges and universities throughout northern Illinois as part of the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative led by the Partnership for College Completion. The group met at NIU's Naperville campus.

They came together to share information and brainstorm ways to address achievement gaps prevalent in Illinois and throughout the country.

Working to create a campus-wide ILEA Equity plan, NIU is primed to tackle the issue, say those involved.

Closing the gap requires an institutional effort, said NIU Senior Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Vernese Edghill-Walden, Ph.D., as opposed to the creation of a single program.

"You can have all the strategies in the world, but if you never change your institutional culture those strategies will fail," she said. "We have to change our culture. I think we're moving in that direction, but we have a lot more to do."

Evaluating graduation equity rates even before joining the initiative, NIU has made strides the past four years, leaders say.

NIU's Strategic Enrollment Management Plan spells out the university's commitment to be a leader in the area of equitable access for students from diverse backgrounds. Among the plan's many objectives is to clearly identify gaps and create comprehensive plans to reduce them.

Working with fellow educators can only enhance that effort, NIU leaders say.

"The conference confirmed for me we have all of the ingredients to achieve at that level and to get our institution to where we need to go," said Renique Kersh, Ph.D., associate vice provost for Student Engagement and Success.

According to a 2017 Partnership for College Completion report, 33 percent of African American students who start at four-year institutions earn bachelor's degrees within six years—a rate 32.7 percentage points below that of their white peers. For Latinos, 49 percent are earning degrees, a gap of 17 percentage points. Only 37 percent of low-income students graduate in six years compared to 75 percent of wealthier students.

The ILEA Initiative calls for 60% of Illinois residents to achieve earned degrees by 2025.

NIU was among the only institution at the recent summit with members of its Board of Trustees in attendance.

"It spoke to the commitment not only of our president, who was asked to speak, but also our trustees committed to this project," Kersh said.

A first-generation college student and the daughter of Mexican immigrants, NIU Trustee Veronica Herrero of Chicago spoke at the event about the critical need for all trustees to understand what equity in higher education means and how it impacts the long-term sustainability of institutions.

Herrero told the crowd President Freeman has weaved equity and inclusion work into every aspect of the university.

"Addressing equity gaps, student success outcomes of our black and brown students, and improving inclusive practices and cultural competence in and out of the classroom are all board level, presidential goals that we help President Freeman to champion," she said.

As part of efforts to create an ILEA Equity Plan and assess its strengths and areas in need of improvement, NIU recently sent out an Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool survey to faculty, staff and administrators. Of the 25 institutions in the ILEA, NIU received the largest survey response, with about 300 respondents, Edghill-Walden said.

Coming soon, the survey results identified a need for a clear definition of what equity means at NIU, as well as increased communication of the work being done to close graduation gaps, Edghill-Walden said. Similar to the way in which NIU recently updated its mission, the plan is to engage the university community to create that definition, she said. 


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Knowles: GSU diversity chief targets graduation rates

Knowles: GSU diversity chief targets graduation rates

https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/opinion/ct-sta-knowles-column-st-0423-story.html

APR 22, 2019
- Chicago Tribune (DAILY SOUTHTOWN​)

As a Brooklyn College student in the 1980s, concerns about racial unrest and inequities prompted Corey Williams, who is black, to join a fraternity that was predominantly white.

He said his goal was to help dismantle stereotypes and foster understanding at the New York City school.

Today, Williams said he is continuing a similar mission. Williams, who since developed mentoring programs targeting minority first-generation students at several colleges, was recently named the chief diversity officer at Governors State University in University Park, a first for the school.

"Rather than being on the sidelines viewing equity issues, we thought why not tackle equity issues within our own institution and be a model for other institutions across the state," said Williams, 48, who also serves as GSU's associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

He said he wants to decrease achievement gaps for first generation students of color, particularly black and Latino students at GSU, where among its 4,857 students 38.4 percent are African-American and 13 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

"We are working with a group of 25 colleges and universities across the state through a partnership, Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative," he said. "It is an initiative through the Partnership for College Completion. It is 25 colleges and universities across the state that have the focus of decreasing those achievement gaps over the next five years."

Among the students targeted in the effort are African-Americans, Latinos, students receiving Pell grants, first-generation students and students with disabilities, he said.

He noted in 2014-15, retention from junior year to senior year for junior African-American transfer students at GSU was 67% compared to all transfer students at 72%.

"We aim to increase retention for all students, but also aim to close this gap by 2020," he said. "We have reduced the equity gap for the retention of African-American transfer students from 5.1 percentage points in 2014-2015 to 3.7 percentage points in 2016-2017."

Among factors contributing to achievement gaps are unique challenges some students face, he said.

It's important to understand "that some of our students come from traumatic experiences and how trauma bleeds into their education," he said. "By trauma, I mean (hunger), housing insecurities, dealing with violence at home, single-parent households, gang violence, those issues bleed into what tends to happen when they enter (college)."

He added first-generation students who make up roughly 42% of GSU undergraduates, also face unique challenges, including that they and their parents often don't know how to navigate the higher education system and perform such tasks as completing financial aid applications and advocating for themselves.

"These are things we have to teach," he said.

How should disparity issues be addressed?

"Having support systems in place to support students is absolutely key," Williams said. "There are (federal) program grants for low-income, first-generation or students with disabilities to help. We are planning to submit for five grants through that process. I think each would bring in about $220,000 per year for five years."

The grants would fund support mechanisms for the students, including increased advising, peer coaching and wrap-around services to aid in their college completion, Williams said.

"Each grant would support 100 to 150 students," he added. "We would focus on students with disabilities, traditional students, veteran students, students looking to go into education and students pursuing STEM careers or the health career field."

Williams said he also plans to conduct "a climate survey to get a sense of what's going on at GSU, how students feel, how faculty and staff feel, perhaps having listening circles with them to find out issues that are very important to them that need to be addressed right away."

Williams, who has a master's degree in higher education from Chicago State University, has nearly two decades of experience working in leadership and administration in higher education positions, including at Triton College in River Grove, where he served as dean of student services and Title IX coordinator. There he founded and implemented Triton Men Pursuing Higher Education, a multifaceted mentoring program that aided in the recruitment, retention and graduation of minority males, he said.

"We worked with minority men, primarily African-American and Latino men," he said. "We provided wrap-around services. Each male was paired with a mentor at the institution or an alumni. They would meet one to two times a month and collectively as a group once a week, and the young men served as mentors to middle and high school students to create a pipeline because for many of our first-generation students, particularly men of color, they lack that role model. So, it's important for them to see people who look like them doing things they aspire to do.

"With the first . . . 25 students, all graduated in a two-year period," he said, noting, "at some community colleges, the graduation rate for men of color is about 7 percent. The fact that we were able to do what we did was astounding. The model is being discussed at different conferences around the country."

The program expanded to Elgin Community College and Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, he said. He added at Triton, a similar women of color mentoring program also was developed, and he is looking to bring that to GSU.

Asked what lessons about diversity he wants GSU graduates to take with them into their careers and life, he replied, "GSU is reflective of our society, the makeup of the institution. It's about respecting everyone's beliefs, their background, their ideologies. That's very important to me. It's important for students as a whole to know how to navigate the nuances they're going to face once they leave GSU."

Communication is key to fostering a culture of respect and understanding, he said. Williams, who at age 9 emigrated from Panama to New York with his mother, has long held that belief.

That's what prompted him to join Zeta Beta Tau, a predominantly Jewish and white fraternity while he attended Brooklyn College. His decision to do so followed the high-profile death in 1986 in New York of Michael Griffith, a 23-year-old New York City resident, who died after being struck by a car as he fled a mob of angry white teens. That experience and other racial tensions had a profound effect on Williams, who recalled racial tensions were high in the city and at the college.

"For me it was difficult to understand why something as simple as the color of a person's skin would create barriers from getting people to truly know one another," he said. "It was something I couldn't get. As a child in central and south America, what I saw as an issue was more classism as opposed to racism, so this was very vexing to me, something I wanted to understand better, to create conversations to bring about understanding."

So, he decided to join Zeta Beta Tau, he said. Chapter members spent time with his family and in his home, and he spent time with theirs. He later became chapter president, he said.

"I learned a lot about the Jewish faith, and I was able to dismantle some preconceived notions that people may have had about black men," he said.

In order to dismantle stereotypes and foster and maintain a culture of respect at GSU, it's important to have "honest conversations, courageous conversations and safe conversations, to not hold things back but discuss things in a productive way, to create that safe space for people to seek understanding," he said.


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College Student Success Gaps Persist. How Can Schools Close Them?

College Student Success Gaps Persist. How Can Schools Close Them?

https://www.northernpublicradio.org/post/college-student-success-gaps-persist-how-can-schools-close-them

April 17, 2019

PETER MEDLIN - WNIU News

This past week, leaders from community colleges and universities across northern Illinois met to brainstorm how to close college completion gaps based on race and income level.

Over 20 schools joined with the Partnership for College Completion (PCC) to launch the "Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative" last year. The schools share what works for them, and the PCC helps them orchestrate a plan unique to their schools and give them more information about the reality of the equity issue.

Lisa Castillo-Richmond is the Partnership's managing director. She says the gaps in Illinois mostly mirror those seen across the country. However, there are aspects of the issue where Illinois stands out.

"We are a significant outlier, I would say in terms of the gap between white students completing college degrees and African American students," she said. "In six years from a four-year institution, white students will graduate at a rate of 66 percent while African American students are graduating and about half that rate at 33 percent. And these gaps also exist across other races and ethnicities."

Organizers say it was essential for their initiative to be made up of a diverse group of schools -- two and four-year; big and small, public and private -- in order to show how gaps persisted everywhere.

"We really wanted to move away from the fallacy that says if you just get students into the right institution, everyone is graduating at these equitable and high rates, because we saw these gaps across all types of institutions," said Castillo-Richmond.

They all faced the same problem. For some, the disparity was six or eight percent. For others, it could exceed 10 or even 20 percent.

And why did they want to meet now? Across the state, in aggregate, the gaps weren't getting better and in some cases, they were widening.

The event was held at Northern Illinois University's Naperville campus. Lisa Freeman is the president of NIU.

"What we're saying is, it's really the responsibility of the university to meet the students that we accept where they are," Freeman said, "and to recognize that sometimes when a student doesn't succeed, it's not on them, it's actually on us, on the systems we've created that are serving our students poorly."

She says NIU was looking at their graduation equity rate even before they joined the initiative. But it's been easier to start acting on it since the end of the budget impasse.

"They weren't data that we were proud of," Freeman said. "We wanted to erase the gap that achieved for students who come from lower-income families, and for students of color. And we knew that to do that we needed to make a radical change."

For NIU, that's meant making sure students have support during their financial aid process, and raising awareness for academic resources. They've also seen through their PROMISE Scholars Program, how research can help connect students -- especially students of color -- to their campus and increase their odds of retention.

Confronting and analyzing equity data has been a key part of the plan at Wilbur-Wright College. They're a two-year school and one of the City Colleges of Chicago. David Potash is the president.

He said their plan has been in effect for a few years now. They've been deciphering where student success gaps are happening, so they can home in on the sources of the problem.

"That means that you got to look at the data all the time because you make one change and then there are consequences, some positive, some negative, you make another change," said Potash.

Wilbur-Wright's population is two-thirds Hispanic. One improvement area they found was with Hispanic female biology students. They saw those students were dropping out close to when they should have been finishing their programs. To help fix that, they assigned students farther along in the program to peer mentor students with less experience.

"And with a little bit of peer mentoring what we found, not a ton of work, the number of Latino females in the biology sequence increased when they were falling through at a relatively low billable rate," Potash said. "I mean, this is not rocket science, but it's looking at the data, finding people who are motivated together and care, and then you make a change."

Schools are also using technology to close the completion gap. The keynote speaker at the NIU-Naperville event was Tim Renick of Georgia State University. He spoke about his school's success with using an chatbot to answer common questions from incoming freshmen, anything from FAFSA to housing.

"We had students repeatedly tell us they asked the chat box questions they wouldn't have asked a human being," said Renick. "If you can't get your biological father to sign the FAFSA because you haven't seen him for the last two years, you don't necessarily want to go into some stranger's office and spill out your personal family history."

NIU President Freeman also has plans to implement a similar chatbot while they continue to teach their faculty and staff how to have conversations about equity.

"Nobody wants to inadvertently send a student the message that maybe this isn't for you," she said. "But people need to learn when they do those kinds of things unconsciously."

Aside from the individual school plans, the PCC is promoting policies at the state level to alleviate some of the pressure.

Currently, they're focusing on policies to overhaul the way higher education handles remedial courses, to get students college-ready.

Castillo-Richmond says with so many schools buying into the initiative there's still plenty colleges can do, even without extra aid coming from Springfield.



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Waubonsee initiative aimed at recruiting, retaining black male students

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https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/aurora-beacon-news/opinion/ct-abn-crosby-black-males-st-0213-story.html

FEB 12, 2019
- Chicago Tribune (The Beacon-News​)

Officials at Waubonsee Community College had noticed it for a while.

Across the country, Africa-American males graduate at a substantially lower rate than their peers. Among the 10,000 students at WCC, there are 700 African-Americans enrolled, with just 250 of them being male, who have a 58 percent retention rate, compared to 70 percent for all students.

It's an issue that had been noticed and discussed by the higher-ups at the school.

But that concern did not turn into an initiative until WCC President Christine Sobek and Vice President of Strategic Development Jamal Scott attended a Vermont meeting in the fall of 2017 with a national education group called the Association for Innovation and Transformation. There, according to Scott, college officials were challenged to pick a project that could be "transformative in nature" at each of their schools.

Projects eventually chosen by other colleges included focusing on adult students returning to the classroom; finding better ways to work with parents; promoting wellness; and increasing the number of programs offered.

But the moment the challenge went out, recalled Scott, "Dr. Sobek and I looked at each other and the light bulb went on."

Because Scott's role includes reviewing student data and success rates, "we knew this would be a great project for us to focus on."

Since then, that's just what they have done.

The first part of this initiative, Scott said, is to "find and foster mentorships in and around the community." Which, he added, "would seem like such a natural" since Aurora's first African-American mayor, elected the same year this initiative was seeded, grew up in the projects on Aurora's East Side and faced many of the same challenges young black males face today.

And so, in December the mayor and other successful African-American men — including those in their 20s — met with a couple dozen black male students at WCC to discuss what it takes to overcome hurdles like poverty, racial stereotypes and low expectations too often placed on these young men.

By all accounts, it was a revealing and at times emotional meeting, where stories were shared, tears were shed, bridges were built and more eyes were opened to what is needed for these students to achieve success.

Some of the topics discussed: showing respect for others, including women and authority figures; learning to ask for help when needed; and breaking down stereotypes.

"Don't let people define what you can be," Irvin said, after telling the young men how a guidance counselor at East Aurora High School once informed him he'd never amount to much.

"When you see someone as successful as Mayor Irvin stand up and say, 'I was where you are now,'" said Scott, "it makes a tremendous impact."

These meetings are ongoing, he added, with the idea of finding mentors to pair with black male students looking for guidance.

The second part of the initiative, according to Scott, is an alignment with Chicago-based Partnership for College Completion, which has begun an initiative called Illinois Equity in Attainment that focuses on helping students who enter college at a disadvantage because of lack of opportunities.

According to the group, in community colleges, on average only 21 percent of all first-time, full-time students graduate, and only 16 percent of low-income students will graduate.

The idea, said Scott, is "to help them get off the ground and on more equal footing."

While the number of black males enrolled at WCC has remained fairly stable over the decade, Scott is determined to raise that percentage. And one way to do that is to "do a better job" of letting African-American males know about the college, he insisted, adding that too many may be aware of the downtown Aurora campus "but did not know the Sugar Grove campus even existed."

Scott plans to work much closer with school officials, including superintendents and guidance counselors, to more effectively market the opportunities at the school, even if it means providing bus support so "we can get the high school students out to the campus to see what it is all about."

Not only does he and other officials want to see the enrollment numbers go up, he noted, "we need to make sure they are prepared to be successful when they get here."

Success, however, must be measured not just through recruitment but also retention and completion. In other words, "it's not good if we can get them to enroll and then they drop out a week later," Scott said. "We want to see them complete this program or transfer to a four-year school."

Aurora Communications Director Clayton Muhammad, who is also founder of the successful Boys II Men mentoring program and served as emcee at the round-table at WCC, knows more than anyone how very real the student achievement gap is among black males, not just in our community but nationally. And he's convinced education is not only "the great equalizer," it's critical that successful African-Americans get involved in helping guide these students.

This group plans to meet again the last week of the month. And Scott says he's "really excited" about the initiative because "it's like anything in life … once you identify what you want to focus on, you get serious" about improving it.

"We are making it a number one priority," he said. "And by galvanizing the community behind it, this will pay great dividends in the future."


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Illinois universities pledge to end racial, income graduation gaps by 2025

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https://dailyillini.com/news/2018/10/16/illinois-universities-pledge-to-end-racial-income-graduation-gaps-by-2025/

16th Oct, 2018

BY THE DAILY ILLINI STAFF REPORT

The University has joined 24 other colleges and universities across Illinois to help more working-class students receive college degrees by 2025.

The project, named Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative and launched by nonprofit organization Partnership for College Completion, aims to eliminate racial and economic obstacles that prevent students from receiving college degrees within the typical two or four-year time frame.

Kyle Westbrook, executive director of Partnership for College Completion, said there are three phases in the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative such as providing financial-aid plans for low-income students, making colleges and universities more welcoming for students from underrepresented backgrounds and working to ensure each degree path is clearly mapped out for students.

"UIUC has among the lowest gaps in degree completion along racial and socioeconomic lines in Illinois," Westbrook said in an email. "We hope that UIUC uses this collaboration to continue to focus efforts on increasing African-American student enrollment and ultimately completely closing the relatively modest gap that does exist in degree completion for UIUC."

The project revealed students of color from Illinois and who are first-generation students from working-class backgrounds have more difficulty getting associate's or bachelor's degrees in comparison to white, wealthier students.

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, 66 percent of Illinois students earn a bachelor's degree within six years while only 36 percent of African American students and 48 percent of Latino students graduate within the same time frame.

The University, DePaul University and the University of Illinois at Chicago are among the twenty-five schools in Illinois that have pledged to participate in this initiative.

"We're excited to see the great focus that Chancellor Jones is bringing to improving what are already great numbers for UIUC and look forward to continued leadership on issues of access and equity from our state's flagship institution," Westbrook said.

The University has already taken steps to allow students of lower socioeconomic status to achieve secondary education by granting free four-year tuition to admitted students from families making less than $61,000 a year, according to the Partnership for College Completion website. The ultimate goal is to end the graduation gap by 2025.

Kathy Martensen, the assistant provost for Educational Programs, said the University will be working directly with the project.

"Our team will be working with representatives from the ILEA in the coming months to define our institution-specific goals, opportunities, challenges and a path forward," she said. "The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is excited to be one of these 25 partners, especially since we are one of only two of the partner schools who would be considered to be located outside of the greater Chicagoland area, and we're looking forward to learning more and working with PCC on the ILEA initiative."

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

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WBEZ News - Illinois Equity in Attainment

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October 9, 2018

WBEZ News - Illinois Equity in Attainment
Includes interview with our Managing Director, Lisa Castillo Richmond. 


WBEZ News - Illinois Equity in Attainment

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

uic-0911186_78573118-e1538444883944

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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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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Backstory: Kyle Westbrook, Partnership for College Completion

Kyle Westbrook grew up in Springfield expecting to be an astronaut, not an education activist.

But his experiences led Westbrook, 44, to a career in education — as a history teacher at Lincoln Park High School, to an education policy leader in the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and now as the founding executive director of the Partnership for College Completion. Unlike myriad organizations that prepare students to be "college ready," the nonprofit works to prepare colleges so they can help low-income, first-generation African-American and Latino students graduate. 

What was the genesis of the Partnership for College Completion?

A group of foundations realized they had made a tremendous amount of investment in supporting students in their K-12 education, but hadn't done enough to support students through their college experience. 

What drove you to do this work in the nonprofit sector?


Seeing students with so much potential and intelligence and not seeing them realize that potential, whether it was because they couldn't finish high school because of circumstances, or in many cases they'd finish high school but were never going to complete college for a variety of reasons. It was never because of intellect or ability. It's what motivated me in this role. They never had access to the middle class in the way I did. 

What is the biggest challenge facing low-income and students of color today?

A high school diploma is just not going to be sufficient because of the complexity of our economy. I read a recent study that found around 98 percent of the new jobs created require some sort of post-secondary education. So the challenge is how do we decrease the number of low-income students who are going to college but don't graduate? This impacts the life outcomes for those students. Not only do they end up without a degree, but oftentimes they end up with student loans and student debts. In many ways, they are often worse off for having gone to college if they haven't completed it. 

You worked for Mayor Rahm Emanuel before launching the partnership. What role does politics play in education policy?

In the best case scenario you have multiple groups that align to come together for a shared agenda. Where politics tends to derail education is when we have politicians who act in ways that aren't clearly aligned with what our students need. 

How do you start your morning?

Waking up and checking emails to make sure there's no emergency. Assuming there's not, I get up and exercise. No matter how hard or light, it makes me feel better about the day. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An astronaut. I had a fascination with space. I'm still interested in astronomy. 

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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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