Meet Lisa M. Lyons, Saint Xavier University

What is your role at the Saint Xavier University?

I serve as an Academic Resource Advisor and Rebound Program Coordinator at Saint Xavier University.

How did your college/university support your success in earning your degree(s)?
Although my parents have some college/ trade school under their belt, I really had to figure out the college thing on my own. I was active in high school with sports and activities but did not participate in college preparation programs or mentoring. I don't even recall going to a lot of college fairs in my junior and senior year of high school. I attended Western Illinois University (WIU) and from day one I knew I wanted to be involved and take advantage of the many opportunities afforded to me. I found refuge in the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, it was a cultural center for African and African-American programs and activities. The Director at that time was Belinda Carr and she took me and so many others under her wing and showed us how to navigate the University and its resources. I branched out and got involved with various areas of the university. I made a huge effort to have a positive working relationship with all my professors. Many of my professors embraced me and wanted to see me succeed. I took on several leadership roles and would land an internship working with the Vice President of Student Affairs who was Dr. Garry Johnson at that time. The internship would fuel my interest in working in higher education.

One program that stood out to me was the Multicultural Orientation. It was held outside the normal orientation and it gave students of color an opportunity to learn about campus-based resources and get to see faculty and staff that looked like them or at least understood their concerns. Students were given a resource guide of go-to persons and places. There was also the Multicultural Graduation banquet where graduates and undergraduates of the graduating class were honored and celebrated. There were additional awards that were given out in various areas of leadership. In case you were wondering, I got the Leadership award as an undergraduate and graduate student. I enjoyed my experience at WIU so much that I stayed for graduate school. Today, I still keep in touch with the faculty, staff, and administrators, which shows they made a huge impact on my life.

What excites you about equity work at your institution?
I feel like equity is starting to finally be addressed. I believe people are starting to realize that there are a number of things that need to be handled. The cultural make-up of the university is changing, and we, too, must be able to change at the same time. I am excited to see what new ideas and programs can be birthed during this process. I believe this will provide an opportunity to get more people involved and excited about working with our students.

In your role, how do you impact equitable outcomes for your students?
It's important to let students know they run the same race. They may come from different racial backgrounds, economic status, educational institutions but the goal is the same. I look at the incoming freshmen class and I have given them all the same tools and support to kick off this semester and be successful. The students all start the race at the same time, at the same place. It does not matter if they were first to be accepted or barely got into the university. Now some students will sprint to the finish line with no problems, other will run into roadblocks, and then there will be those that take a detour. My role is to ensure that everyone is being advised according to their needs, and that I do my job with integrity. 

Continue reading
320 Hits

NSC Postsecondary Data Partnership - Update


NSC has updated the data intake file process for the Postsecondary Data Partnership and has asked us to make sure all our institutions are aware. Some of the most consistent feedback NSC has received from the pilot institutions regarding the submission process is that the method in which Terms are defined in the questionnaire and then referenced in the data file and dashboards can be confusing. This had lead to complications and sometimes multiple conversations with PDP Service. We have updated this process to alleviate these concerns. In the Data Intake File that you will use for data submission in September 2019, the PDP will both standardize the terms and directly collect the respective term dates in the data files.

NSC has published an update to the Submission Guide that highlights this change on the PDP Website. Please remember that these new data intake files will be the only valid file format starting in September submission. As you get started coding for your data for submission, please refer to the updated Submission Guide and new data intake file templates.

If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you are still working on getting the agreement signed for your institution, keep in mind that while your data submission window will open in September, NSC should receive your signed agreements as soon as possible.

Please remember to copy Lisa Castillo Richmond at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. when submitting your signed forms to the NSC.

Continue reading
186 Hits

Meet Nick Branson, College of Lake County

Friday, 07 June 2019

What is your role at the College of Lake County?
I have served as the Assistant Director of Institutional Effectiveness, Planning, & Research at CLC since 2012. As CLC works to centralize and institutionalize our student success work, I will be serving as the Assistant Director of Student Success Strategy and leading a newly formed Student Success Team.

How did your college/university support your success in earning your degree(s)?

I feel very fortunate for the higher education experiences I have had, but my experience was not without challenges that many students face in finding a path and navigating a complex system. I entered Loyola University Chicago as a first-generation college student, uncertain of whether it was a good fit for me or what career path I would want to pursue. I chose it primarily because I was offered a much-needed scholarship to attend, but am very grateful for the wonderful educational experience that followed. When I found my passion in studying sociology, poverty, and urban issues, I also found faculty members who were not only great instructors, but great promoters of experiential learning opportunities. It was through my instructors that I learned about studying abroad, an internship opportunity, and a community-based research fellowship. These were life-changing experiences for me that motivated me to complete my Bachelor's degree and find work that benefits my community. Without the faculty connecting me to these opportunities, I would have never found them and am not sure where my path would have led. I completed a Master's in Social Sciences at University of Chicago next, and now several years later am working to complete a Ph.D. in Research Methodology back at Loyola. Today, I find support at Loyola, but also am grateful for the great support I have from my colleagues at CLC as I continue on my educational path.

What excites you about equity work at your institution?
I am always excited to be closely connected to the equity work at CLC. For me, the ultimate reason we do this work is what excites me. The ability to leverage educational experiences we provide as a community college to truly improve the lives of our community members is a huge motivator. I am passionate about the role we play, and that education in general plays, in addressing social and economic inequities.

With the current work at CLC, I am also most excited that we will be applying an equity lens to the broad, institutional improvements we plan so that we can impact the most students. It is important for us to use evidence of inequity to identify, design, and implement full-scale, personalized, and culturally-relevant strategies. We want to focus on systemic changes that will benefit all of our students, and especially our underserved students. As we take this approach, our equity work is not separate from, but rather becomes our student success work.

In your role, how do you impact equitable outcomes for your students?
In my background in institutional effectiveness, I have served to voice the data stories of our students' experiences from an equity perspective. Starting with our data has been a critical step to helping the college community understand and see the disparities in outcomes across racial-ethnic groups, age groups, gender, socio-economic status, and other categories. We have also collected data to assess our efforts and determine how they are or are not working for students of different backgrounds. As a researcher, I find that it is also important to directly experience the programs and hear the students' voices so I work to observe programs and lead focus groups with students to more thoroughly understand our work. Evaluating what we do is a critical process to finding what is working and modifying what is not so that we can have the greatest impact on our students' success.

It is not enough, though, to simply communicate the data about our students. Our outcomes compel us to take action, and I am excited to be working with our ILEA team and Student Success Team to develop strategies based on our evidence. My biggest impact for our students' success will not be through building awareness, but through partnering with faculty, staff, and leaders at CLC to leverage data in the process of creating an environment where all of our students can succeed.

Continue reading
262 Hits

SAT's Adversity Index and the limitations of standardized tests in assessing students potential for college success

​Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The College Board, which markets and sells the SAT, announced last week that it will release an "adversity index" that it has been testing for the past several years, to all colleges by 2020. This index aims to put students' academic achievements into the context of where they lived and attended high school. This measure of relative advantage or disadvantage will be available to admissions counselors at the colleges to which students apply, though not to students themselves. This new measure, while well intended, highlights the limitations of standardized tests in assessing students potential for college success.

In promoting the new measure, the College Board admits that a standardized test cannot fully gauge a student's potential and that in admission decisions, context matters. The stated goal of the "disadvantage level" is to help colleges identify resourceful students who have persevered in the face of adversity. Other than one example, however, the College Board has not detailed how the score should be used to contextualize SAT scores to improve equity in admissions decisions.

Moreover, it is unclear how the adversity score could correct either the deeper issues underlying how college admissions are affected by the adversity they seek to identify, or even the immediate issues that use of this test has created. This new measure, like the use of the SAT in scholarship and remediation decisions, could also have unintended consequences that negatively affect the students it claims to help.

Many studies show that the SAT is not as predictive of college performance as high school GPA, and that standardized test scores more closely correlate to family income and parents' education levels. For example, one study shows a 400-point gap between the highest and lowest-income test-takers. Large racial gaps also persist -- In Illinois, black and Latino students averaged 924 and 969 composite scores, respectively, compared to 1,113 for whites and 1,202 for Asian test takers. Drawing on these disparities, critics of the SAT have long argued that the test reflects and exacerbates racial and socioeconomic inequities. By leaning in on the adversity score, the College Board seems to agree. So, it raises the question: if a college really wants to bring equity in admissions across the diversity of postsecondary institutions, and measures like high school GPA are more predictive of college performance and graduation, why use the SAT at all?

Of course, the College Board would not recommend discontinuing use of the SAT, which added more than 130,000 Illinois test takers in scaling last year. However that idea is gaining traction, as a growing number of institutions are implementing test-optional admissions. This practice was recently adopted by the University of Chicago, for example, showing that this practice can be viable for institutions of any selectivity level. Early results from nearly 30 colleges show that moving away from standardized tests like the SAT can de-emphasize measures that correlate strongly with wealth and race, giving low-income students and students of color more access to institutions that lead to greater economic opportunity.

By including adversity scores along with test results, the College Board is essentially acknowledging the SAT's role in perpetuating inequity in college admissions, but it passes responsibility for actual change on to colleges and universities. Institutions should seize this opportunity to deemphasize standardized tests altogether in favor of measures, like high school GPA, which are more predictive and can increase access and equity in college admissions decisions.

Continue reading
332 Hits

Prioritizing Equity in Postsecondary Education for Chicago’s Students

​Monday, 20 May 2019

To: Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot
Re: Prioritizing Equity in Postsecondary Education for Chicago's Students

Who We Are
The Partnership for College Completion (PCC) is a non-profit organization aimed at eliminating state and institutional achievement gaps in college degree completion for low-income and first generation students and students of color in the seven-county region in and surrounding Chicago by 2025.

Policy Recommendations to Help Close College Achievement Gaps

Governance and Finance

  • Establish a community college equity council and taskforce on funding and partnerships
  • Maintain a diverse and equity-minded Board for City Colleges of Chicago (CCC)
  • Advocate for state-level funding formula change

Expand CPS institutional framework for addressing inequity to CCC
Similar to the equity council and ensuing policy statement that the Mayor-elect's campaign outlined for CPS, a community college equity council could provide crucial guidance for the direction of City Colleges of Chicago (CCC). Further, to secure additional resources and partnerships needed for our students, the Mayor's Office should regularly convene a funding and partnerships taskforce of community college representatives, students, non-profit advocacy organizations, and members of Chicago's business and philanthropic communities.

Diverse and equity-minded CCC Board of Trustees
CCC serves all of the City and much of the State's public 2-year students, many of whom are low-income and more than 70% of whom are Black or Latino, and the current board is relatively representative of its student population. New members must continue to reflect the diversity of CCC's campuses and have a strong understanding of how to best serve a diverse student body.

Advocate for state-level funding formula change
The current funding formula for community colleges does not adequately factor in equity and requires an additional $13 million in funding irrespective of formula just to achieve its baseline level. For CCC to succeed, it needs for Illinois to have a more equitable, sustainable, and evidence-driven community college funding formula. The Mayor's Office, perhaps through the aforementioned taskforce, should make recommendations to the General Assembly and Governor's Office about funding formula changes that bring equitable funding to CCC.

Human Capital

Retain CCC Chancellor Juan Salgado and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson
In their short time leading Chicago's education systems, both CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson and CCC Chancellor Juan Salgado have championed initiatives aimed at improving equity and transparency and have been laser-focused on improving student outcomes at every stage of the education pipeline. Retaining and supporting Chicago's equity-minded leaders, and their initiatives, is a critical first step to maintaining momentum towards closing Chicago's equity gaps in high school and college completion.

Student Supports

  • Make scaling co-requisite remediation a top priority for CCC
  • Reevaluate Star Scholarship program criteria
  • Scale transitional math implementation

Make scaling co-requisite remediation an immediate, top priority for CCC
Developmental education, or remediation, is one of the greatest college completion barriers and equity issues facing Chicago. Developmental education classes costs students time and money and do not count toward degree completion. Black and Latino students are disproportionately represented in developmental courses, and of those who enroll in developmental coursework, only 9% of Black students and 16% of Latino students will graduate, compared to 25% of their White peers. About 12,000 City Colleges students were placed into developmental education in FY17, and fewer advanced to take a college-level class (33%) than decided not to come back the next year (51%). Co-requisite remediation is a method of development education that doubles or triples rates of students passing college-level courses by enabling them to take credit-bearing courses as soon as they get to college, while providing them with in-time support. City Colleges can implement at scale, and in doing so help thousands more students persist, and ultimately transfer or graduate from CCC, but to do so, reform must be a clear, high priority.

Reevaluate STAR Scholarship criteria for equity
The Star Scholarship is a driving force behind the improved outcomes and enrollment stability at CCC. More importantly, it offers college access and opportunity to our most under-served and under-resourced student groups. This opportunity should not be limited to students who have achieved a 3.0 and a certain threshold on standardized tests. Expanding Star scholarships will increase enrollment at CCC and ultimately improve the pipeline that runs from CPS graduation to economic opportunity in Chicago.

Scale transitional math implementation
Every year, nearly 46% of Illinois high school graduates and 61% of CPS students who enroll in community college in the state are placed into developmental education. In 2016, Governor Rauner signed the Postsecondary Workforce and Readiness (PWR) Act, designed to bridge K-12 and postsecondary institutions, including four strategies aimed at helping students become college and career ready. One such strategy is transitional math instruction, which empowers high schools and community colleges to enter into a partnership to help high school students with math readiness needs. If successfully implemented, transitional math will decrease the number of Illinois' high school graduates who are placed in remediation and improve college-level course pass rates. So far about a dozen schools are already implementing transitional math, and more are looking into expanding this initiative. For the City to position itself as a leader in college readiness, scaling transitional math and English within CPS and at charter schools must be a priority that the new administration drives.

Continue reading
358 Hits

Illinois Equity in Attainment: Member Spotlight

Meet Dr. Lisa Petrov, Dominican University

What is your role at Dominican University?
Right now I am the Title V Project Director. Our project is "Strengthening Advising, Teacher Education and Our HSI Identity." Normally I am faculty in Spanish, and I teach a freshman seminar. I arrived at Dominican in 2008, just at the cusp of it becoming eligible for Department of Education HSI status. Over the years I've had the honor of working with many of our Latinx students closely, both in and outside of the classroom. I've seen them accomplish amazing things and I have continuously been inspired by their grit and resilience.

How did your college and universities support your success in earning your degrees?
My journey of success in attaining a BA at Oberlin College, an MA in Latin American Studies from Tulane University, and an MA and PhD in Spanish from UW-Madison (specializing in colonial literature) was a long and circuitous one. I arrived at Oberlin at a complete loss for what to do; I had thought I was headed for a medical career while at the Bronx HS of Science; but a summer volunteering in a hospital made clear that I was not suited to the field. I opted for a Spanish major because I wanted to travel, and there are so many Spanish-speaking countries from which to choose! Oberlin helped me succeed by not getting in my way and being a place where radicals are ordinary. However, due to a disastrous first semester freshman year, after four years I left Oberlin eight credits short of the total I needed to graduate! It took me three years to have a job with a schedule that allowed me to take classes. I finally completed my credit hour obligations, thanks to Hunter College (CUNY). I did not return to school for my graduate education until I knew what I wanted to do professionally. Teaching immigrant HS students new to NYC put me on the education path; simultaneously a side gig translating in Guatemala opened the Latin American world to me. Together they led me to Tulane and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The story gets too long from here! Suffice it to say, it was a journey with the occasional detour and roadblock.

What excites you about equity work at your institution?
Everything excites me about equity work at Dominican. Part of our university mission is to actively participate in the creation of a more just and humane world. I have taken it to heart and made it my mission to do everything I can to work on my small corner of higher education. In doing equity work at DU I get excited to see students succeed who otherwise might not. When I can be instrumental in getting them more access to better support systems (which actually provide them with what they need) I get super excited! It motivates me to see faculty colleagues learn to be more inclusive and culturally responsive practitioners. I get excited to be part of creating systems that help staff understand that equity is not treating everyone exactly the same! The simple act of educating folks to the important differences between equality and equity is exciting to me.

In your role, how do you impact equitable outcomes for your students?
Everything I do in my role as Title V Project Director should impact equitable outcomes for students at Dominican—so I keep that foremost in my mind as I make decisions about how to expend federal funds ($550K/year) and best implement our project to meet the objectives of each part (many of which are precisely to eliminate equity gaps). Title V funding for HSI development is about strengthening the institution and enabling it to better serve all of its students, but especially its low-income and Hispanic students. Dominican's Latinx students experience equity gaps compared to white students; our African American students suffer the most serious equity gaps. Half of all of our students are Pell grant eligible; but not all equity gaps are a result of scarce financial resources. One of my early decisions was to invest in faculty development and focus on increasing inclusive and culturally responsive practices in undergraduate classes. To me it seemed clear that all students would benefit from redesigned gateway courses across the university. The grant sponsored a Faculty Learning Community that is just wrapping up from last summer, with faculty participants from three of our four schools. Recently a participating science professor said to me that his teaching has been forever changed by the process. I want to leverage him, and the others who also saw positive results in their students' academic performance in the fall 2018 class they redesigned, to bring even more faculty on board. All this should positively impact equitable outcomes for students as more faculty renew, refresh and share with colleagues their more inclusive pedagogical practices. I am hoping to help promote a faculty culture of continuous improvement. As we say in Spanish, ojalá.

Continue reading
332 Hits

2019 ILEA Spring Summit

​April 15, 2019

On Thursday, April 11th, the first annual ILEA Spring Summit was held at the Northern Illinois University Naperville campus where over 180 staff, faculty and administrators from the ILEA cohort convened to hear from a number of institutions engaged in equity best practice work and engage and connect with one another. After a warm welcome from NIU President Dr. Lisa Freeman and NIU Trustee Veronica Herrero, attendees heard keynote presentations from Dr. Timothy Renick of Georgia State University and Dr. Frank Harris III, co-director of the Community College Equity Assessment Lab at San Diego State University. The morning and afternoon breakouts offered the opportunity to attend presentations on a number of strategy topics, including remediation reform, development of equity-minded professional development for faculty and staff, making the business case for student success and exploring institutional data. The full agenda for the ILEA Spring Summit, along with presentations and additional information provided by our presenters is currently available on the new ILEA portal website. Thank you to all our presenters and participants!
Click here to read the press about the summit.

Thank you to Moraine Valley Community College and Northeastern Illinois University who will be hosting the ILEA Summits in 2019-2020. Please save the date for the the Fall and Spring Summits!

  • Fall Summit, October 30, 2019 at Moraine Valley Community College

  • Spring Summit, March 31, 2020 at Northeastern Illinois University

Continue reading
447 Hits

NSC Postsecondary Data Partnership

At the Spring Summit, it was announced that the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Postsecondary Data Partnership will be the mechanism by which ILEA colleges and universities share data with the PCC as part of the Initiative. The Postsecondary Data Partnership is a new effort administered through NSC to help colleges and universities more efficiently gain a fuller picture of student momentum, progress and outcomes, meet various reporting requirement, and focus more of their resources on using their data to help students. As the data shared through the Postsecondary Data Partnerships mirrors reporting for ILEA, there will be no additional or supplemental data that institutions will be required to provide outside of NSC, as had been originally communicated to each team.

ILEA core team and Institutional Research colleagues have been sent detailed information and required documents for sign-off, which are also now available on the ILEA web portal and through the link below. For purposes of this partnership, the PCC is the 3rd party that each ILEA institution will give permission for the NSC to share disaggregated data with. Through the link below, you will find all of the forms that need to be reviewed and signed by each institution as the first step in this process, which include:

  1. Addendum to your current agreement with the NSC
  2. RT addendum if your college/university would like to participate in reverse transfer
  3. PDP 3rd Party authorizes NSC to share data with 3rd parties (name PCC)
  4. Exhibit B gives authorization to the 3rd parties (name PCC) to have access to the aggregated data dashboards; Exhibit C gives authorization to the 3rd parties (name PCC) for de-identified individual analysis ready file.

Download the Forms Here

Access PDP website
View video tutorials of PDP data dashboards

Please submit forms to Michelle Blackwell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with Lisa Castillo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. on copy by June 1. While NSC recommends institutions submit 3-5 years of baseline data, PCC is encouraging ILEA institutions to submit at least 3 years of baseline data before the current reporting period closes in June. ILEA members who submit all signed forms and submit at least three years of historical data will be eligible to participate in a workshop with their data in the NSC dashboards at the 2019 ILEA Fall Summit. Additionally, those institutions will be entered into a drawing for a contribution (of at least $1,500) to your Student Emergency Fund. Please let your PCC Program Manager know if you plan to submit by the June 27th deadline or if you will submit in September.

A recording of the May 9th webinar about the details of this partnership will soon be available in the ILEA Portal.

Continue reading
361 Hits

Illinois P-20 Council Equity Targets Webinar

In 2018, the Illinois Legislature passed SR 1647 and HR 1017, which direct the Illinois P-20 Council to acknowledge the significant disparities in college completion and postsecondary attainment rates for low-income and first generation college students and students of color across Illinois, and to update the State's postsecondary attainment goal "to include equity-focused targets aimed at closing institutional racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps." The P-20 Council directed its College and Career Readiness Committee to take on this task. The CCR Committee has since convened workgroups comprising of over 80 diverse representatives to develop a framework for the targets, analyze data on postsecondary enrollment and completion, identify approaches for stakeholder engagement, and explore institutional and statewide strategies to achieve the targets and close gaps across the groups of interest.

On Thursday, May 30th at 12pm, join Emily Rusca, Director of State Policy and Strategy at Education Systems Center who will be sharing updates from the Equity Targets Workgroup with ILEA institutions, as well as soliciting feedback from ILEA institutions on their insights as they have gone through the process of developing their Equity Plans. In particular, Education Systems Center hopes to understand what potential State policy windows or incentives might help reduce barriers and incentivize successful interventions at the institutional level in order to drive more equitable postsecondary attainment.

Continue reading
397 Hits

PCC’s Response to Governor Pritzker’s First Budget Address

Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Increasing MAP by $50 Million: A Good Start to Supporting Low-Income Students

Today, the Governor pledged an additional $50 million for the state's Monetary Award Program (MAP), bringing total funding to around $450 million. This recommendation falls short of the State's higher education agencies' (IBHE, ICCB, as well as ISAC) requested $100 million increase; however, if part of a multi-year ramp up to ensuring all eligible students receive a MAP award, the additional $50 million appropriation is a significant first step toward reinvesting in Illinois students for whom this support determines if they can attend college at all.

In 2002, MAP covered 100% of tuition and fees for all eligible applicants. Today, more than 100,000 eligible applicants are denied funding each year, and for those lucky enough to receive it, MAP covers just 33% of tuition and fees. For the future of Illinois' students, workforce, and diverse economy, our first priority must be for all eligible students to be served without cutting funding levels. We project that a 65% increase (or $260 million increase) in current funding would both fund all applicants at current levels and at least keep up with increasing applications for the program. This additional $50 million proposed in the Governor's address today will serve about 15,000 more students -- a commendable first step, but one which will likely still leave more than 80,000 eligible applicants without funds.The Governor ran on a platform of a 50% increase in MAP funding, and we hope today's proposed 12.5% increase is the first step towards delivering on to that promise.

While we do not expect the Governor to fully reverse 15 years of underfunding in his first fiscal year, we applaud Governor Pritzker's commitment to continue, if not accelerate, the pace of ramping up this investment in order to improve our State's higher education outcomes.

Public Universities Get A Much Needed 5% Increase

Illinois' four-year universities have endured historic disinvestment over the last ten years -- they saw per-student funding cut by more than 50% before the budget crisis, and then suffered through defunding and uncertainty that affected students, staff, and the system as a whole. As appropriations declined, tuition increased, as universities were left with no options but to shift costs to their students. Now, the net cost for students of all income levels is the highest in the Midwest, and among the highest in the nation, and this hits the lowest income students the hardest. A 5% increase in public universities' budgets is a necessary start in allowing institutions to better serve all of their students.

The Increase in AIM HIGH Should Be Qualified, Or Reconsidered

AIM HIGH, Illinois' new merit-based financial aid program, is an attempt to slow the outmigration of Illinois' high school graduates leaving to attend college in other states. As it currently stands, however, the only need-based qualification is that a student's family income is no greater than six times the national poverty guideline -- about $150,000 for a family of four. There are no further mandates to equitably distribute this grant funding to students, and without such requirements, increasing funding for this program may come at the detriment of qualified students who most need it. Today, Governor Pritzker proposed an increase in state appropriations to this program.

One of the stipulations of AIM HIGH is that colleges must match all grants to students with their own institutional aid. Without requiring that grants go to low-income students, and assuming that an institution does not increase their institutional aid greatly after receiving AIM HIGH (which would be difficult given the aforementioned funding shortfalls), this matching provision could actually draw institutional aid away from low-income students who need them to attend these universities and direct it to better-resourced students who may have chosen to attend that university anyway. With enrollment numbers in precipitous decline, now is not the time to expand a grant program that may result in even fewer Illinois' low-income students being able to afford our public universities.

A more equitable path to driving Illinois' students to attend our public universities is to redirect the $10,000,000 increase to the more than 3,200 eligible students who will apply for MAP and not receive any funds this year.

More Commendable Recommendations

Governor Pritzker recommended a much-needed 5% increase to the State's community colleges, which serve even more of our state's low-income students, first generation college goers, Black and Latino students. The budget plans released by the Governor also include new funding for transitional math, which will increase college preparedness and cut down on developmental education, and for the P-20 council, which is working toward increasing Illinois' important initiative to have 60% of adults attain high-quality degrees by 2025. All of these recommendations are commendable. 

About:​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ 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. Launching this regional organization is the culmination of a two-year planning process that was led by Forefront's College and Career Access, Persistence and Success (CCAPS) group and involved hundreds of stakeholders from across Chicago, the region and the nation. For more information:

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

Continue reading
586 Hits

Illinois’ Higher Education Budget Requests $25 Million for Nonpublic Institutions: Here’s How to Make It Equitable

December 6, 2018, Chicago, IL — In a proposal unveiled on Tuesday as part of its FY2020 budget recommendations, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) is requesting a $25 million taxpayer subsidy to private institutions. If enacted, these funds have the potential to be either a carve out for higher income students, or a tool for improving equity in Illinois higher education; it all depends on the implementation details.

The recommendation, titled "Financial Assistance for Nonpublic Institutions," would revive a program that awarded $21 million to private institutions in FY2000, which itself was based on the rationale that Illinois should maintain a diversity of higher education institutions. How this act fits in with modern higher education goals of equity is left undetermined: "rules for the program would be developed to maximize current state goals," the proposal reads.

In 2016, $136 million went toward making private universities more affordable for MAP students and yet a MAP grant only covers 14% of tuition at these colleges, less than half of the amount it covers at Illinois' public universities. Sticker price aside, the average cost to low-income families is more than 30% greater at private institutions compared to at public universities. Further, these schools serve lower percentages of underrepresented and low-income students than public universities. So how can this $25 million be a force for equity, compared to better funding the MAP grants, a need-based program that goes directly to students, for example?

While private colleges do tend to have higher graduation rates for minority and low-income students, they also serve these populations more selectively. The Financial Assistance for Nonpublic Institutions program could counteract this selection and give more opportunities to underrepresented students by only distributing funds to colleges in proportion with their increases in number of underrepresented students served, and as matching grants that fund financial aid for those students. This would guarantee that taxpayer dollars are going toward increasing the rates at which better resourced private colleges serve the students who need it most, while simultaneously lowering the price of college for these students.

The original program was created in response to a 1961 statute calling for "maintain[ing] a diversity of public and private institutions." PCC agrees that a healthy state higher education system should include a diverse tapestry of high-quality postsecondary options for all students, provided that these institutions serve students equitably. As proponents of the current iteration acknowledge, how it's implemented is critical. Only a plan that allots funds as a condition of better serving underrepresented students, however, can turn this budget request into one that increases equity for Illinois' students.

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. Launching this regional organization is the culmination of a two-year planning process that was led by Forefront's College and Career Access, Persistence and Success (CCAPS) group and involved hundreds of stakeholders from across Chicago, the region and the nation. For more information:

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

Continue reading
1315 Hits

Illinois House Passes Resolution to Close College Racial, Economic Achievement Gaps and Increase Graduation Rates

Partnership for College Completion-sponsored resolution highlights urgency to prepare all students for demands of Illinois workforce 

November 26, 2018, Chicago, IL—The Illinois House has committed the state to closing the large racial and economic achievement gaps in college degree attainment by 2025. In adopting the resolution (HR1017), the House is supporting the state's decision to add equity targets to the State's public goal of increasing the percentage of Illinoisans with a college degree or credential to 60 percent by 2025. Building on resolution SR1647 that the Senate adopted in May, House legislators pledged to support college and university programs that show evidence of improving educational outcomes for low-income and first generation college students and students of color.

The resolution comes amidst research from the Partnership highlighting persistent gaps in achievement and underscoring the moral and economic imperative to take action through awareness, programs, and policy.In Illinois, 80 percent of employees say they need workers with some postsecondary education. But, only 34 percent of African American students who start at four-year institutions earn bachelor's degrees within six years – a rate 33 percentage points below that of their White peers. For Latinos, 49 percent are earning degrees, a still-wide gap of 17 percentage points. The completion gap between low-income and wealthier students is alarming: only 37 percent of low-income students graduate in six years while 75 percent of wealthier students do.

"This resolution recognizes that in order to reverse racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps we need bicameral support for bold solutions," said Kyle Westbrook, Executive Director of the Partnership. "With the House and Senate now aligned on goals, we look forward to continuing our work with the state to increase equity in higher education."

The Partnership promotes policies, systems and practices that ensure all students particularly low-income and first generation students graduate from college and achieve their career aspirations. The Partnership's initial focus is on colleges and universities in the seven-county northeastern Illinois area. The recently-passed House resolution follows a Partnership initiative with 25 colleges and universities, who recently announced their commitment to closing the equity gaps on their campuses by 2025. The specific, coordinated steps led by PCC in collaboration with national partners, is a major move to close racial and socioeconomic college degree completion gaps.

About: 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. Launching this regional organization is the culmination of a two-year planning process that was led by Forefront's College and Career Access, Persistence and Success (CCAPS) group and involved hundreds of stakeholders from across Chicago, the region and the nation. For more information:

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

Continue reading
1851 Hits

ILEA 2018 Summit


The PCC held our first Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) Summit on November 13, bringing together leaders of 25 colleges and universities, national education experts, and students to discuss how programs can be developed, shared, and implemented to eliminate institutional achievement gaps in college degree completion for low-income, first generation, African-American and Latino students by 2025. More than 200 participants spent the day in workshops and breakout sessions discussing how to define equity, build community, explore how data can drive action, and set the path forward.

The Summit followed the ILEA launch on October 2, in which colleges representing 223,000 students, 37% of the Illinois undergraduate enrollment, pledged to eliminate longstanding institutional inequities in degree completion by race and income. The Partnership's initial primary area of focus is the seven-county region including and surrounding Chicago. The Summit represents a key piece of the Partnership's strategy: using our resources and convening power to support the ILEA institutions through sharing of data and best practices.

The tone of the day was set by US Sen. Dick Durbin, the first in his family to graduate from college, who went on to earn a law degree before becoming a US Senator. "What you are doing may be the most important thing for this country," he said. In other introductory remarks, City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado noted that every one of the seven colleges has "enthusiastically embraced" the ILEA initiative. He said that the quality of our success will depend on how far we can move students from where they began to realize their true potential.

Students from five ILEA institutions – Governors State, Malcolm X, National Louis, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Waubonsee Community College - reminded educators to acknowledge the challenges many students face, from college readiness to financial pressures to mental health concerns. They may also face racist or sexist remarks. The solutions: awareness, first, then having in place an array of support systems that ease the transition into and through college, together with the connections and networks to post-graduate career opportunities.

Throughout the Summit, participants examined personal experiences, assumptions, and biases – important steps to understand the hurdles that lie in front of students. But, to develop and apply policies and practices to close equity gaps at scale, the value of obtaining actionable data could not be understated. Participants in all sessions, and notably in a discussion facilitated by leaders from Achieving the Dream and the College of Lake County, spoke of gathering data that is descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and proscriptive. Data can be used, for example, by faculty to re-design courses or to create specific success strategies for each student that extend beyond college completion to securing sustainable employment.

Changing demographics in college enrollment and in the workplace make the work of the Partnership and ILEA especially timely. Said Lori Suddick, President of The College of Lake County: "There is an urgent need to address both the economic and moral imperative to this work. Joining the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative supports CLC's focus on ensuring equity in access and success so every student completes."

The participation of the 25 colleges is a first in many regards. Each of the ILEA institutions will develop an equity plan that includes annual growth targets for low-income, first generation, African-American and Latino students. The Partnership will issue annual reports on progress toward these goals. The ILEA Summit marks one of the first steps, with colleges participating in a series of activities over the coming months, leading to draft equity plans by July and final plans in place by December 2019.

Continue reading
1165 Hits

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.

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

Continue reading
1710 Hits

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.

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

Continue reading
1734 Hits

Sign-up to receive our communications

Connect with us on social media