BY Paula J. Hanley

Senior College and University Partnerships Manager Paula J. Hanley

As we embark on a new academic year, we again are faced with a changing landscape in higher education.  The daily headlines include declining enrollments, the great resignation and rising mental health issues faced by students from the pandemic and isolation.  But there has also been good news in the form of debt forgiveness.  One constant that remains the same is the need for campuses to create a sense of belonging for students and especially for historically underrepresented students. When students feel connected, included and valued, they have a greater chance of success. 

Through the ILEA cohort, we have seen institutions continue to build structures and supports that foster campus environments where students, staff, and faculty feel seen, validated, and safe to create a better sense of belonging on campus.  These include redesigning gateway courses, first-year experience programs, academic advising models, implementing guided pathways, creating multi-cultural centers and spaces and assigning students to dedicated navigators and mentors.  We have also seen a shift to engaging large numbers of faculty in course and curriculum redesign and embedding inclusive pedagogy practices in their classrooms.  We have witnessed ILEA institutions hold dialogues on race, campus climate, providing for students’ basic needs including mental well-being.  All these interventions and coordinated resources supports can have a lasting impact on students’ ability to pursue and attain their educational goals. 

In the fall of 2018, ILEA was launched, and we brought together a community of practitioners, faculty and campus leaders who committed to taking a deeper look at inequities on their campuses.  ILEA institutions courageously committed to looking at ways to better support historically marginalized students and create new structures for BIPOC and low-income students to succeed.  We are thankful for your commitment then and especially now as we have collectively lived through a pandemic.  We have grown and learned together as a community and have explored root causes of inequities, asked how we can become better at being student-ready institutions and examined how our policies and practices have not always enabled students to succeed. 

At the Partnership for College Completion, we have done our best to create space for the ILEA community to connect and network in a virtual environment.  And we will continue to offer virtual programming as it enables institutions to bring more staff and faculty to our events.  We also look forward to connecting in new ways with you in-person during visits to your campuses and we are excited to announce that we will be holding the first day of our Annual Summit on November 2, 2022, at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Our theme for this year’s Summit is “Reconnecting the ILEA Community on the Journey to HE Equity in IL.”  We look forward to seeing colleagues who have been on this journey with us since 2018 and welcoming new faces to this important work as together we redefine what it means to be equity-minded institutions in the state of Illinois.