Fair Tax Now Off The Table, A More Equitable Approach to Higher Ed Funding is Urgently Needed Now More Than Ever

With the failure of the fair tax amendment on Illinois ballots this fall, there are fewer options on the table to begin closing Illinois' budget hole and adequately fund services essential to our state economy including higher education.

The possible reform of Illinois' longstanding flat tax system couldn't have been more timely as the state continues to reel from the public health and economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis that has disproportionately affected low-income families and families of color. The pandemic has subsequently been more likely to disrupt the college plans for students of color and low-income students, threatening to widen disparities in college degree attainment, which remains the surest way to the middle class. Now particularly, having a college degree will be crucial in helping students and families across the state recover from this crisis.

On its own, the projected $3.4B in revenue a fair tax system would have brought in wouldn't have been enough to fill our projected state budget shortfall or close existing equity gaps, but it would have been a critical first step. In the immediate term, it could lead to level funding for FY2022, which can provide stability for students who rely on state-based financial aid to access college, and to institutions that depend on state funding for critical programs and services. In the long-term, it could position Illinois to implement a more adequate and equitable higher education funding model that prioritizes funding to institutions serving marginalized communities.

On this side of the election now, our most vulnerable colleges and universities instead remain in the same predicament they were in prior to the referendum: Underresourced due to underinvestment by the state, and bracing for possible cuts that would serve only to worsen their financial position and harm the financially vulnerable students they are more likely to enroll.

We do not envy the budget decisions our lawmakers will have to make in the months ahead. However as they weigh their options, we urge them to make their decisions through an equity lens. For our higher education system, that means lawmakers approaching the funding of higher education as a critical investment in our state's future economic stability and workforce, and prioritizing institutions with significant financial need and the historically marginalized students they disproportionately serve, while making key decisions about that investment.

In our new study, Higher Education Appropriations: A Framework for Equity in Illinois, the Partnership for College Completion discusses this, offering lawmakers a playbook for making higher education appropriations that:

  1. Invest in higher education, even in fiscal crises
  2. Consider the different funding needs of 2-year and 4-year public colleges and universities
  3. Prioritize financially vulnerable students and institutions
  4. Ensure funding comes with accountability and transparency

As we hold out hope that additional federal funding will soften the blows of COVID-19's drastic impact on our state economy, it's critical our lawmakers take the steps that will provide underresourced students more stable footing as they pursue a college degree - whether that be during this crisis or in its aftermath. Adopting a more equitable approach to funding higher education is a strong and necessary next step.

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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Dr. Mary Daniels, Chicago State University

1. What is your current role/title?

I serve as Associate Provost for Academic Innovation and Strategic Initiatives.

2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?

BA (Political Science), Reed College 

AM (Political Science), University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 

PhD (Political Science), University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

3. How did your college/university support your success in earning your degrees?

I benefited enormously from faculty mentorship at my college, which was a very academically rigorous environment which attracted many students from highly prepared, privileged backgrounds. For a first-generation student who experienced doubts about my own capabilities and belonging on such a campus, it was so valuable to have a faculty mentor who provided invaluable feedback on everything from my senior thesis to guidance about graduate school, and what a career in academia would involve. Even one person to connect with can make such an important difference—something I've tried to remind myself throughout my own career. At my graduate institution, close friendships and a support network of peers in the program provided camaraderie and help in so many ways—tackling the curriculum, finding an area of specialization, completing the dissertation, and navigating the job market after graduate school. The department provided many valuable opportunities to learn the profession and work with each other through research and teaching fellowships. There was ample support for conference travel and research, which extended to a fellowship year at Oxford University while completing my dissertation.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?

More than anything, the opportunity to contribute to the work of creating access to higher education regardless of race, income, or family background, particularly at a time when Black student enrollment has dropped by 29% in Illinois. As Illinois' only four-year Predominantly Black Institution as designated by the U.S. Department of Education, Chicago State University is laser focused on closing equity gaps. As a part of our 2020 - 2025 Strategic Plan, Chicago State University is committed to building student support scaffolding that increases rates of persistence and reduces the time to degree completion. This work is in motion with the launch this summer of Cougar Commitment, a holistic, data-driven set of strategies to improve student success. A prong of Cougar Commitment is Rise Academy, which gives freshmen a year-long full-tuition scholarship, a summer bridge course, and intensive academic advising. Exciting innovations like this, which bring together faculty, administrators, students, donors and the community, help me to believe that together we will make a difference in creating a society that values education and works to reduce the barriers to entry for everyone.

5. In your role, how do you impact equitable outcomes for your students?

Chicago State University has a comprehensive approach to student success, from developing college-ready high school students to preparing our scholars to succeed in their careers. Further, the University recognizes that investments in our community facilitate student success. As Associate Provost for Academic Innovation and Strategic Initiatives, I play a leadership role in projects across this spectrum, and am privileged to collaborate on projects with our college deans and department chairs, members of President Scott's team, and external allies in this work like the Partnership for College Completion. Recent efforts include collaborating across the university to create our ILEA Equity Plan, where we discovered the relative success of transfer students in on-time degree completion compared to first-time full-time freshmen. We are digging into the reasons for that and simultaneously developing assessment tools to measure the impact of a series of integrated, holistic student support programs that have been put into place. CSU is committed to restructuring higher education to increase access for all learners in our undergraduate and graduate degree programs, through certificate and stackable credential programs, and by removing barriers to entry and completion, wherever they might be.

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2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit Recap

The fourth ILEA Summit, held October 21-23, 2020, was our first-ever virtual summit, and was unequivocally a success! Over XXX faculty, staff, administrators from your institutions attended the summit, themed.The summit kicked-off with a video welcome from Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, followed by a keynote address, "Saying Equity Will Not Beget Racial Equity" from Dr. Estela Bensimon, Director of the Center for Urban Education & Professor of USC Rossier School of Education, Center for Urban Education, University of Southern California. Dr. Bensimon also led a session for ILEA presidents and conducted the faculty workshop, "The Syllabus As an Instrument for Racial Equity."Other workshops focused on achieving equitable student outcomes, diversifying approaches for equity and inclusion and faculty hiring through an equity lens and were conducted by Dr. Davis Jenkins, Research Scholar Community College Research Center, Teacher's College, Columbia University, Dr. Noelle Arnold, Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity Inclusion and Global Engagement (EDGE) College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University, Dr. Kimberly McRae, Faculty Counselor and Instructor, Seattle Central College and Dr. Vik Bahl, Faculty, Green River College.

The Summit included our first Illinois Legislative Panel session focused on the higher education agenda in Illinois. Panel participants included: Dr. Vernese Edghill-Walden, Chief Diversity Officer, Northern Illinois University, Dr. Escortina Ervin, Executive Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Compliance, Joliet Junior College and Dr. Mary Daniels, Associate Provost, Innovation and Strategic Initiatives, Chicago State University, Representative Chris Welch, State Representative, 7th District of Illinois, Representative Nick Smith, State Representative, 34th District of Illinois and Senator Celina Villanueva, State Senator, 11th District of Illinois.

Dr. Lisa Freeman, President of Northern Illinois University and David Sanders, President of Malcolm X College served as panelists on our first Presidential Reflections panel.They talked about leading equity initiatives on their campus.We also heard from representatives from ILEA schools in "Equity Speaks" sessions, where they discussed the equity planning process on their campuses as well as specific strategies in their plans. Lisa Castillo Richmond, Managing Director, PCC delivered the State of ILEA address on the final day of the summit where she discussed some of the additional equity challenges brought on by COVID-19 and highlighted strategies underway at ILEA institutions to ensure equity.

Summit by the Numbers:

  • Total Number of Attendees: XXX
  • Total Number of Faculty: XXX
  • Highest Overall Participation (2-yr): College of DuPage
  • Highest Overall Participation (4-yr): Northern Illinois University
  • Most Faculty Registrations: Harper College
  • Top WHOVA Engagers:
    Dr. Scott Friedman, Moraine Valley Community College
    o Lorri Scott, College of Lake County
    o Gayle Miller, College of Lake County
  • Summit Evaluation, Quality of the Summit:
    47.06% rated it Excellent
    o 47.06% rated it Very Good

Many presentations and supporting materials from the summit can be found in the WHOVA app and will also be available on the ILEA portal in early 2021. For additional information, contact your Equity Program Manager.

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Without graduated income tax, Illinois state universities brace for ‘almost inevitable’ budget cuts ‘because there’s just nothing left'

November 12, 2020

by ELYSSA CHERNEY - Chicago Tribune

In Gov. J.B. Pritzker's first remarks after voters rejected his administration's signature proposal for a graduated-rate income tax in Illinois, the first-term Democrat singled out higher education as one of the many state-supported areas that could lose funding as lawmakers try to balance the next budget.

With no new sources of revenue and an expected drop in gains from sales tax during the coronavirus pandemic, Pritzker warned that he is left with few favorable options.

Reducing discretionary funding for the state's 12 public universities and community colleges could make it harder for students to afford college if schools raise tuition to offset the losses, some experts said. And there could be less money to support a grant program for low-income college students who qualify for state assistance in a time when more applicants are expected to seek aid.

While Illinois universities are not expecting any budget changes for this fiscal year, which began July 1, some advocates and policy experts said the long-term implications for Illinois higher education could be severe if new sources of funding aren't found.

"Without new revenue, our fear is that we will continue to see the same trajectory that the state has been on in terms of lower enrollment, especially for Black students," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion, a Chicago-based nonprofit.

Over the past two decades, Westbrook said, state appropriations for public universities have remained relatively flat but haven't kept pace with inflation, and a greater share of the funding is being directed to pensions for public university and community college employees.

On top of that, some schools are still reeling from the state's two-year budget impasse under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, Westbrook said. Universities that rely more heavily on state dollars and serve a higher number of lower-income students were disproportionately affected by the funding delays.

"You could argue the situation was dire even before the budget impasse, but that created a crisis in the system as a whole," said Westbrook, who led education policy in former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration. "The failure of the (tax amendment) to pass is so catastrophic for higher ed in the state."

Adam Schuster, senior director of budget and tax research at the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute, agreed that inflation-adjusted spending on higher education is significantly down. Funding has dropped by nearly 20% since 2010, when accounting for inflation, while spending on pensions has skyrocketed, he said.

But Schuster called for reform to the state pension system, a politically divisive issue, as opposed to changing Illinois' flat income tax rate of 4.95%.

"Estimated progressive income tax revenues were not earmarked for any particular purpose and would have failed to close the state's structural deficit," he said in an email. "Cuts to state spending on higher education stem from the unsustainable growth in contributions to the state pension systems."

Public universities contacted by the Tribune had little to say about the failed constitutional amendment. A spokesman for Illinois State University said the school "will have to wait and see what next year's budget cycle looks like." Meanwhile, a spokesman for the University of Illinois System did not offer comment beyond confirming that no changes to state appropriations were planned for this year.

"It would be premature for us to comment on the current budget cycle or future appropriations until the governor's office and the General Assembly share their plans," said Mike Hines, a spokesman for Northeastern Illinois University.

On Thursday, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved a request for an 8.3% increase in state funding next year as officials projected $270 million in costs related to the pandemic. The request is sent to the state Board of Higher Education, the governor and the legislature for consideration.

But Jennifer Delaney, associate professor of higher education at U. of I.'s Urbana-Champaign campus, painted a darker picture. Because higher education spending is the largest discretionary portion of Illinois' budget, it is often the most vulnerable when cuts are required, Delaney said.

Delaney, who also serves on the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said her research shows that higher education funding is more volatile than other spending categories and closely tied to economic conditions. She said the pandemic-related recession exacerbates the situation this year.

"It's almost inevitable that higher ed will be cut because there's just nothing left," Delaney said. "The hope of the (tax amendment) is that it would have brought new or additional revenues in, and without those, it's just not at all clear where the money will come from."

Pritzker's graduated-rate income tax proposal might have provided some relief, but it fell short of the thresholds needed to pass on Election Day. The administration estimated the measure would have generated $1.2 billion in the budget year that ends June 30 and $3.4 billion in future years.

The state remains on shaky financial footing, with the administration projecting a combined loss of $6.5 billion in revenue this year and next year. Pritzker also asked state departments to propose cuts of 5% this year and 10% next year and previously warned there could be a 15% cut to discretionary spending without the constitutional amendment.

In addition to potential cuts, Pritzker said he is considering raising income taxes by 1 percentage point across the board. The General Assembly would have to approve the rate hike.

Melissa Hahn, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Board of Higher Education, released a statement saying "we're still in the budget development process," but did not provide further comment.

During a spring session that was truncated because of the pandemic, the General Assembly passed a $43 billion state budget that held funding relatively steady for education. That was a disappointment for universities, which were hoping to receive a 5% bump in funding before the pandemic hit.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission, a state entity that manages need-based grants for college students, was also in line to receive an additional $50 million but instead saw its funding frozen at last year's level.

Eric Zarnikow, ISAC's executive director, said he understands that budget challenges were created by the pandemic but hopes lawmakers will continue to prioritize his agency's grants, which are distributed through the Monetary Award Program. MAP saw funding increases in 2018 and 2020, bringing it to a historic high of approximately $451 million.

Zarnikow said he thinks budget constraints might be a long-term issue and that it would help if lawmakers in Washington stepped in.

"In Illinois, as well as across the country, education and particularly higher education has been really impacted by COVID-19," he said. "We think support from the federal government is really going to be important to meet the needs of the education community."

Chicago Tribune's Dan Petrella contributed.

Original article: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-ilinois-higher-education-graduated-income-tax-20201112-h3nurmlqlra7hkuuneqlr4eqwe-story.html


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Which Students Are 'College-Ready'? Reforming Inequitable College-Readiness Measures amid COVID-19

Jennifer Hernandez, PCC Policy Intern | October 27, 2020

Through the countless articles about inequities in access to online AP tests, learning pods, and the overall digital divide, COVID-19 has brought long-standing and new educational disparities under a harsh, unwavering spotlight. As students transition from high school to college, there are further divides to consider. One of them is an often overlooked and deeply consequential hurdle in the college enrollment process: course placement.

Nearly 46% of Illinois' high school graduates who enroll in a community college are placed and enroll in developmental coursework (also referred to as remedial coursework) in at least one subject, with students of color disproportionately represented. Despite research challenging the efficacy and equity of using standardized tests and high-stakes placement exams for course placement, many colleges still rely on test scores to determine whether students are ready for college-level classes. As COVID-19 exacerbates inequities in access to test prep and technology, without placement reform, Black and Latinx students and students from low-income communities could be disproportionately locked out of college-level courses, even at our most accessible community colleges.

In response to COVID-19 disruptions, the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) released placement guidelines to help Illinois colleges better determine students' readiness for college-level courses and reduce the need for students to enroll in developmental education to make up for perceived or actual learning loss.

The guidelines recommend that colleges expedite implementation of ICCB's Final Placement Recommendations and use GPA in place of other assessments when those assessments are unavailable or difficult to access. Regardless, if a student's GPA indicates that they are ready for college-level English (cumulative GPA of 3.0/4.0) or math (cumulative GPA 3.0/4.0 with successful completion of a 4th year of math), the guidelines recommend that the student should not be enrolled in developmental education. ICCB's recommendations also go beyond placement, adding guidelines for assisting students who do not meet the recommended cut-off scores and reducing their time in developmental education, so that students don't fall further behind.

ICCB's emphasis on GPA is a pointed one. Studies on college readiness have indicated that GPA is a better measure of a student's academic performance and potential than ACT and SAT scores, which are skewed by income and race—they reflect differences in wealth, not preparedness. With all the buzz about Zutoring (Zoom-based private tutoring) exacerbating academic disparities between the rich and poor, the reality is, this draws on a legacy of ACT and SAT prep services that have given an edge to students from wealthier, White families since those tests began. Research also calls into question the accuracy of college placement exams such as ACCUPLACER and ALEKS, showing that many students are placed into developmental education when what they really need is tutoring or concurrent supports. Based upon arbitrary and inconsistent cut scores on a single test, students can be enrolled at the same college but be separated by "ready" and "not ready," furthering the educational divide.

The Dev Ed Debate and The Case for Reform

Currently, most colleges use developmental education as a starter kit for students to avoid early failure and transition into college-level coursework. Open-access institutions in particular, including community colleges, need to be able to support students who are not yet ready to take on college-level coursework on their own. Those in favor of traditional developmental education (i.e. separate, pre-college courses for English and Math) argue that these courses allow underrepresented and underprepared students to access colleges where they would otherwise not be allowed to enroll in the first place. From this view, developmental education is designed to increase equity in higher education by affording access. However, research over the years has shown that no identifiable student group benefits from traditional developmental education, and this approach is actually perpetuating inequities in completion. Students are getting in the door, but the question is, why aren't traditional models opening doors to college-level courses? And how can new approaches to developmental education better support students progress toward completion?

Because developmental education is not college-level coursework, students taking these classes rarely earn college credits and must take more classes to complete a college degree, and because developmental education classes typically cost just as much as any other college class, students can run out of financial aid before they are able to complete their degree. Students in developmental education are less likely to graduate, and community college students enrolled in developmental education are less likely to successfully transfer to a four-year university to complete a bachelor's degree. These issues are disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx students, who are more likely to be placed into developmental education and less likely to complete.

By following ICCB's guidance this year and years to come, colleges can help shrink these equity gaps. ICCB encourages colleges to address learning loss and help more students become college-ready without traditional developmental education, by providing alternatives such as tutoring, writing workshops, and other wraparound services designed to bring students up to speed. ICCB recommends that institutions provide these concurrent services to support students who would otherwise be placed into developmental education. Meanwhile, such students would enroll directly in credit-bearing courses and make up for learning loss without having to play catch-up the next semester and beyond.

The efforts to analyze the benefits and drawbacks of developmental education placement have been in the works pre-pandemic. The SJR 41 Advisory Committee, convened by the Illinois General Assembly, was tasked with taking stock of Illinois' developmental education policies and practices. Released on July 1, the Committee's report on scaling reforms lays a blueprint for building evidence-based, context-sensitive reform to support every student. The idea is not to throw students into the deep end and hope they swim. Rather, reforms to developmental education aim to equip students with the skills they need to swim and the chance to do so.

Next Steps and Challenges to Implementation

ICCB's statement on utilizing the placement guidelines in light of COVID-19 reflects the fact that many colleges have not yet implemented ICCB's guidelines or have not adopted them fully. Many colleges that use "multiple measures" in the placement process still rely solely on placement exams and standardized test scores. To find out which public colleges and universities are implementing ICCB's placement recommendations, click here.

Along with the challenges of moving to socially distant instruction, providing wraparound services is an added challenge for underfunded colleges who are also experiencing losses in revenue and uncertainty in the fall. Our most under-resourced colleges will bear the brunt of these impacts—but their students stand to benefit the most from ICCB's guidance. Successful implementation of effective wraparound supports will require additional investment from the state or targeted use of federal CARES funds. Supporting all students requires recognition that a problem exists and a concentrated effort to solve it. Developmental education is among the most important challenges colleges and their students will be facing in an already tumultuous year.

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Guest Blog: Fallen Flat on the Shoulders of My Students

For too long, Illinois' working and low-income residents have borne the brunt of the state's 'flat tax.' A fair tax would ensure the state's wealthiest pay their fair share and Illinois' working and low-income residents have greater access to realizing their dreams - including going to college.

Keisha Rembert

Keisha Rembert | October 2020 
Keisha Rembert is an Assistant Professor at National Louis University. She is a Teach Plus Illinois Policy Fellowship alumna, 2019 Illinois History Teacher of the Year and NCTE's 2019 Outstanding Middle Level Educator in the English Language Arts. The ideas expressed in this piece are the personal opinions of the author and not reflective of or connected to her employer.

My students are the essential workers you see stacking shelves at your local grocery store, the child care workers who are caring for and keeping young children safe, and the ones at the drive-thru window serving you while the world seems paused. They work, attend classes, take care of siblings and ill relatives and oftentimes, have been the sole support for their families during this pandemic. They are the heroes we herald and laud in this time of crisis.

While they gave the lion's share of their energy to care for us all, they are burdened by an unfair tax system that requires more of them still -- as low-income and working people in Illinois pay twice as much as wealthy people in the name of a "flat tax."

My students have given and Illinois has taken.

It is time to right that wrong. A fair tax structure in Illinois means the wealthiest among us pay their fair share, and we do not leave the hefty financial burden to marginalized communities who have long carried this tremendous load.What would a possible state revenue increase of $3 billion a year do for my students, our essential workers? The possibilities are innumerable. It could, first, make additional educational funding more readily available and accessible, enabling my students to continue the education they so desperately desire. Their educational dreams often rest in their ability to pay for their schooling. A fair tax structure could allow for more state-directed dollars to go to financial aid grants like the state's Monetary Award Program (MAP) that makes higher education feasible for them and other Illinoisans for whom college seems like an impossible dream.

With increased revenue and financial investments in higher education, my students mobility to the middle class and beyond is viable.The additional state revenue and financial support could also prevent institutions of higher learning from faltering as was the case for six Illinois institutions who closed their doors in 2019-20. There are educational deserts in our state--places where colleges and universities are virtually nonexistent. More places around the state could fall into this category as institutions have already experienced formidable cuts and are bracing for future cuts to state funding in the coming years.

These cuts impact my students most. They are the ones who have already been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. They are the ones already combatting an opportunity and equity gap.

Read Keisha Rembert's Chicago Sun-Times Letter to the Editor, "Vote for the fair tax to give my college students a fighting chance to get ahead"

My students work hard and deserve to enter a workforce eager and ready to welcome them. The current job and financial landscape look grim for them and without significant changes, like the fair tax amendment offers, the prospect of entering a healthy job market is unlikely with current double-digit unemployment rates. Inability to secure employment means a continuation and expansion of the existing wealth gap.

My students know the perils and feel the effects of Illinois not paying its bills year after year. They have lived with inadequate access to childcare and grown up in schools forced to cut teachers and without proper resources. They deserve more.

The fair tax amendment is a step toward creating a more equitable Illinois. A chance to remove the undue burden my students have been saddled with for far too long. It means more access, more funding, more resources to move Illinois forward. A vote for the fair tax amendment gives my students a chance to realize their dreams.

My mother always told me 'life is not fair.' I hated to hear it and wondered why life couldn't be more fair. Her mantra is essentially what the state of Illinois has been living by with its current tax system. Now is the time to make it fair--it's possible.

Learn more about what the fair tax could mean for Illinois Higher Education here.

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Experts discuss possible solutions to college affordability in Illinois

October 21, 2020

by MIKE MILETICH - WSILTV.com

SPRINGFIELD (ILLINOIS CAPITOL BUREAU) – State lawmakers hope to craft a plan to make college more affordable, especially for many in low-income communities.

Experts say tuition rates continue to soar compared to the average income for those going to college or tech schools. They also told lawmakers community colleges haven't been exempt from the rise in costs due to inflation. Some feel financial aid is critical to providing access to higher education for students in low-income communities.

"We have families that are priced out not just from college attendance in general at four year institutions, but also public two year institutions," said Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor noted dips in attendance align with a lack of diversity in funding models. Zamani-Gallaher feels the state needs more incentives and opportunities to attract students to continue their education.

Currently, five community colleges in Illinois offer promise programs to help high school graduates with full scholarships.

"When combined with Pell and MAP grants, many community college students that benefit from promise programs can attend college without any out-of-pocket costs in terms of tuition and fees," said Brian Durham, Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB).

However, the promise programs fall under a category of "last dollar" programs. Durham explained students have to take advantage of all other options of aid before they access funding from promise programs.

Importance of financial aid
Data from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission showing costs for low-income students.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) also feels financial aid is critical to providing higher education to students in low-income communities.

Executive Director Eric Zarnikow says 54% of MAP recipients are first-generation college students or have no financial resources for college.

"MAP is supporting about 60% of Black undergraduates and well over half of Latino/Latina undergrads attending public universities," Zarnikow said.

He also highlighted work with Gov. JB Pritzker's office to identify a plan to improve grant aid. Zarnikow said combining a $50 million increase in MAP funding with an effort to put 15% of those funds towards community college students could cover tuition and fees for most MAP-eligible community college students.

"He aimed to make community college tuition-free for MAP eligible students whose families make under $45,000 a year. That was essentially free community college program for families making under that amount," Zarnikow added.

Strong free college programs

Meanwhile, the Partnership for College Completion argues Illinois has the framework for a free four-year college program through MAP grants.

"We frankly believe very strongly in the mission of MAP to serve our lowest income students and our neediest students in our state and prioritizing our public resources to do that," Executive Director Kyle Westbrook said.

Sarah Labadie, Associate Director of Policy for Women Employed, feels the idea of free college is attractive to many people. While some community colleges function tuition-free, Labadie noted the state doesn't market it that way.

"If designed really well, a free college program or even remarketing our current program could really ensure that we're able to attract more students to higher education who otherwise think it's out of reach," Labadie explained.

She told lawmakers strong free college programs ensure students leave college without debt. Labadie said successful programs allow anyone to take advantage of the assistance and cover costs for four years of education.

Planning for the future


Many hope the state could explore an equity-based funding model for college similar to the K-12 evidence-based model.

"Even if we gave more money to this system, it is not going to bring equity and justice when it comes to communities of color. It is not designed that way and we have to accept that, find the flaw in it, and fix the design," added Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana).

The Illinois Board of Higher Education hosted focus groups and created a survey for people to share solutions. Executive Director Ginger Ostro hopes to adopt their strategic plan by late March with support from the ICCB and ISAC. Still, Ostro said that would only be the start of the process.

"We will have the need for a series of policy changes, state-level practice changes, as well as institutional-level changes," Ostro explained. "As we go over the next couple of months, there's really an opportunity here for all of us to come together and decide what direction we want to go. How are we going to address these inequities that we've seen in the higher education system? How are we going to meet workforce needs, and how are we going to drive the state's economy?"

Source: https://wsiltv.com/2020/10/21/experts-discuss-possible-solutions-to-college-affordability-in-illinois/ 

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The Importance of Faculty Champions in Equity Work

Creating an equity-minded culture is hard work and takes a community of champions to bring to fruition. It takes commitment from all corners of a campus to ensure student pathways and organizational structures and institutional policies and teaching and learning practices are designed in ways that support more equitable outcomes. As members of the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative (ILEA) developed their Equity Plans for their campuses, the role and engagement of faculty voices was integral, and the theme of our 2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit - Engaging Faculty Champions in Equity Work - aptly reflects this. When we think of champions, we think of people who are willing to advocate for a cause they strongly believe in and want to support. With greater numbers of faculty champions on our campuses, ILEA members and other institutions doing equity work move closer to creating an equity-minded culture focused on making sure all students succeed.

As the Partnership for College Completion gears up for next week's summit, hear from faculty champions at Harold Washington College, Kishwaukee College, and Saint Xavier University on increasing student readiness, empowering faculty of color, and teaching and practice through an equity lens for all faculty.

​Harold Washington College
Asif Wilson, PhD, Associate Dean of Instruction
Sandy Vue, Assistant Director - Research & Planning
Jackie Werner, Associate Dean of Instruction
Maria Ortiz, Faculty
Bernadette Limos, Director - Strategic Initiatives, Marketing & Communications.
​​​Kishwaukee College
Pernevlon Ellis Jr., MA,  
Interim Associate Dean, Office of Instruction, Formerly Assistant Professor of Sociology; classes taught include race and ethnic relations, introduction to criminology, marriage and family, and social problems.
Saint Xavier University​
Gina M. Rossetti, PhD
Professor of English and University Fellow for Student Success; Teach First Year composition classes, introductory literature classes, American literature, and literature/humanities courses in the Honors Program. I have been at Saint Xavier University since 2002.

Partnership for College Completion (PCC): A core belief of the ILEA community is that colleges and universities should move beyond a focus on college readiness among students and instead strive to be student-ready as institutions of higher education. What does this mean to you and your work?

Harold Washington College (HWC): The position of being college ready may negatively place blame on the student as the sole purveyor of academic success. This notion also assumes that colleges and universities are in no need of transformation. Being student ready requires that we, as schools of higher education turn inward to reflect and transform the harmful mechanisms—practices, policies, and structures—that limit the possibility of living our missions.

Pernevlon Ellis, Jr., MA (ELLIS): Leaders of every postsecondary institution must engage in strategic planning that allows for the greatest flexibility to achieve its mission and vision. This requires setting and assessing realistic goals and making data-informed decisions. The ability to respond to trends in data to use resources appropriately to meet the needs of its stakeholders. The data that exists on achievement gaps must inform policy and practices to address the ability of colleges and universities to achieve equity. The mission and vision of each institution I have read can't be achieved with addressing these gaps.

Gina M. Rossetti, PhD (ROSETTI): For me, I believe it means beginning with a foundational value: every student is capable of learning. When we focus on only the student's readiness for higher education, we are attempting to mold him/her into a pre-packaged spot. To offer a more welcoming environment, institutions ought to look at policies, practices, curricula to ensure that all are inclusive for a diverse student body.

Pernevlon Ellis Jr.

PCC: A threat to the long-term success of faculty of color is racial battle fatigue among other factors. In what ways should institutions intervene to empower the success of faculty of color?

HWC: Schools, including spaces of higher education, inherently were not designed with people of color in mind (their histories make this very clear). The supposed invisible offensive mechanisms, as Chester Pierce (1970) called them, are as painful as the physical harm our bodies experience. These assaults not only leave staff, admin, and faculty of color (and other minoritized identities) feeling a sense of isolation, and can have long term negative health outcomes. Professionals of color working in schools of higher education need to feel a sense of belonging, a sense power, and a sense of community if the rates of push out (and unfortunately death) are ever to decrease.

ELLIS: Postsecondary institutions must assess and respond to the structural and cultural barriers to success for its faculty from historically marginalized groups. This includes identifying and addressing the barriers in the process of recruitment, development, and retention. Once barriers have been identified leaders of these institutions must facilitate the inclusion of organizational goals to address these as part of the strategic planning process. This will ensure resources are in place to address the micro insults, assaults and invalidations that lead to racial battle fatigue.

ROSETTI: A couple of approaches can be a faculty mentoring program for faculty mentors of color, which will assist new colleagues in both the tenure process, but also in onboarding colleagues so that they are welcomed into the institution. A second approach is that there must be a commitment from all colleagues at the institution that equity and access are important for all, and that matters are not articulated by faculty members of color. In other words, White colleagues must also engage in an institutional equity scan, identifying with colleagues of color pitfalls and barriers, and working together to eliminate them.

Dr. Gina M. Rossetti

PCC: According to this year's ILEA Fall Summit keynote speaker, Dr. Estela Bensimon, "equity-minded individuals are aware of the sociohistorical context of exclusionary practices and racism in higher education." How can your college or university expand awareness of these exclusionary practices that harm faculty, staff and students of color?

HWC: When William Rainey Harper, president of University of Chicago, began advocating for community colleges in the early 1900s, he was not doing so to expand access and opportunity to those who previously not had. Furthermore, the land the University of Chicago was donated to Rockefeller by Illinois Senator Stephan Douglas, who built his wealth from the unpaid labor of his slaves.

The histories of our school reveal their not-so-nice histories, bound in what bell hooks calls white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. By unearthing the oppressive legacies of our institutions (like the fact that Harold Washington College is built on the site of a jail where indigenous tribes were forced to sign treaties) we may be able to dream, and actualize, a world that doesn't reproduce the historical harm that our schools have.

ELLIS: Motivate employees to work individually and collectively to be a leading culturally competent institution. Encouraging white faculty, staff and administrators to lead these efforts to address the organization's failure to maintain a culture conducive to the retention and success of faculty and students from historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups. They also need to lean less on faculty and staff of color to do this work.

ROSETTI: First and foremost, we need to listen to the experiences of colleagues and students of color, whose experiences at the institution are often quite different than those experienced by Whites. Second, we need to act upon what we learn from such experiences, working together to identify and prioritize how we can address these barriers.

PCC: During this pandemic, how can faculty integrate an equity and inclusion lens into their teaching and practice?

HWC: We do not believe that creating more equitable contexts requires lots of funding, new positions, or consultants. The praxis required for this sort of transformation must be built on love, care, and compassion. A love that bounds seemingly different people together to develop new knowledge, and hopefully a love that can transform oppression in the world and our schools.

We call faculty in to be mindful of the ways in which their planning, instruction, and assessment align to students' lives, communities, and center justice. We call administrators in to be mindful of the potential inequitable and harmful consequences of the decisions they are empowered to make. We call staff in to be mindful that they are educators too, every caring and compassionate interaction the students you serve can have long lasting, and transformational impacts. Together, we all can create the conditions in our schools that honor each other, in all that we have to offer.

ELLIS: Faculty are working diligently to facilitate learning that allows students to achieve the mastery of knowledge and skills expected in every discipline. Information and communication technologies are allowing for great creativity in the delivery of course content. Ensuring that we all engage in positive micro-messaging in our communications with students will be important. Interaction with students should be empowering to help those without it to develop the grit necessary to achieve academic success while enduring the challenges that accompany this pandemic.

ROSETTI: In many ways, the pandemic has intensified gaps, particularly in terms of technology and access to it (whether it is Wifi or personal technological devices that are not shared among family members). As a faculty member, I meet one-on-one with my students throughout the semester, and the same approach can be enhanced via technology. These conferences occur—both as regularly scheduled meetings—but also after assignments where I have seen a student struggle with the project. In reaching out to the student, I show him/her that I care about his/her academic success, and that we can work together to make the success a reality.

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Join PCC on Friday, October 16 from 11a-12p CT for our first Twitter Chat: The Importance of Faculty Champions in Equity Work. Follow us @partnershipfcc and use the hashtag #PCCchat.

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PCC: Vote 'Yes' to Fair Tax and Help Build a Pathway to More Equitable Higher Education in Illinois

Early voting begins today in Illinois, and with it, the opportunity to increase our state's revenue and set the stage for increased funding for higher education. The proposed Fair Tax amendment aims to change the income tax rate from a flat rate (taxing everyone at the same rate) to a graduated rate. Ninety-seven percent of Illinoisans will see either no tax increase at all or a tax cut; this change will increase taxes only on Illinois' wealthiest residents. By passing the fair tax referendum this fall, state leaders will not only raise more than $3B a year, but more importantly, create a pathway to adequately fund colleges and universities, invest in college students, and build a strong future for our state.

Support for a fair tax system could not come at a more pivotal time. The state is reeling from the fallout of an unprecedented public health crisis that has had deep economic implications for colleges, students, families, and Illinois communities. For students, higher education remains the surest way to the middle class and will be more important than ever to help students and their families recover from the pandemic. According to the Pew Research Center, the unemployment rate in May was lowest among workers with a bachelor's degree or higher (7.2%), the only group not to experience an unemployment rate in the double digits. Similarly, those with a postsecondary degree or credential will likely fare better in the recovery, as over 95 percent of jobs created after the Great Recession went to workers with at least some college education.

Amidst the fallout, Illinois colleges and universities have persisted in carrying on their missions. Despite significant strains on existing resources, they continue to deploy critical resources to students and community members who have been most impacted by the virus, demonstrating their unique value to the future vitality of our state. As the state faces the ongoing impact of COVID-19, investment in higher education will be critical to supporting institutions and equipping students with the resources they need to enroll and persist in college and achieve their career aspirations.

However, as the proverbial budget-balancing wheel, without additional funding from the federal government or new state revenue, colleges and universities are preparing for the worst. Just this month, the Governor asked state agencies to plan for 5% cuts in the current year and 10% cuts next year. This is troubling news for all institutions but could be devastating for Illinois' most financially vulnerable colleges and universities, often the same institutions that serve higher percentages of Black and Latinx students. This is particularly concerning now, as COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx communities and exacerbating inequities experienced by students of color. Cuts to the Monetary Award Program (MAP) or to institutions serving marginalized students will undoubtedly result in more pronounced equity gaps in access and completion for Illinois' Black and Latinx students and students from low-income communities. For many, it could close the door to higher education altogether.

On its own, a fair tax system will not fill our projected state budget shortfall or close existing equity gaps, but it is a necessary first step. In the immediate term, it could lead to level funding for FY2022, which can provide stability for students who rely on state-based financial aid to access college, and to institutions that depend on state funding for critical programs and services. In the long-term, it could position Illinois to implement a more adequate and equitable higher education funding model that prioritizes funding to institutions serving marginalized communities.

When filling out your ballot this fall, vote yes on a tax system that will work towards economic equality and provide Illinois the revenue boost it needs to fund critical services, like higher education.

*Public higher education institutions and employees are limited in their ability to take action on behalf of Fair Tax. If you're interested in supporting a fair tax system in Illinois as an individual, sign on to endorse Fair Tax here. 

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Stand for justice in Illinois higher education and sign up for our Policy Alerts

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ILEA Newsletter – Letter From Our Managing Director

Dear ILEA Partners,

Welcome back to school for a fall semester unlike any other. We have seen your teams up close as they have done whatever it takes to make plans for students to continue high-quality learning, provide new supports for students, and enable them to form social bonds and foster a connection with your colleges – and to do all of this safely both on and off campus. It is a Herculean task and the amount of creativity, innovation, and hard work are evident to all of us. We've also seen quick shifts to alter plans as the semester began and the virus affected students, faculty and staff. We are now beginning to see early reports about the upcoming spring semester, which look to be a continuation of current approaches.

The pandemic has continued to impact lives on and off campus, and has generally contributed to declines in enrollment across the state that cause concern about student access and institutional stability. This summer, campuses saw a significant decrease in enrollments, raising equity concerns, particularly among Black students, rural students, and at community colleges. Early data for the fall suggests that enrollments are down nationally, and among ILEA partners from between 5% and upwards of 20%. However, there are exceptions that give us hope. Northern Illinois University had a 1% increase in total enrollment for fall 2020 over the prior year, driven by an 8% increase in the size of the freshmen class and a 6% improvement in retention of first-year students. The Illinois Board of Higher Education's (IBHE) Stay the Course campaign and the website launched by the PCC this summer, Illinois Colleges Forward, aim to encourage students, parents, and the counselors who advise them that students should continue to pursue their college goals in Illinois whenever possible, even during this extremely challenging year.

Now, more than ever, your ILEA Equity Plans are powerful tools to help address student persistence, completion, and the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on our communities. They provide a roadmap to greater equity in opportunity within your institutions and seek to shine a light on how we can remove unnecessary barriers for students, as well as provide critical supports to those who need them, when they need them. The publishing of 21 institutional equity plans last month represents a significant and deliberate step toward equity in higher education in the state of Illinois, and we congratulate your important step forward. These plans detail approaches to onboarding first-year students, reforming developmental education, diversifying faculty, using data to target interventions, and much more. In the coming months and at the 2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit, we look forward to sharing more with you about the strategies within these plans and how we can make connections among ILEA institutions to support implementation and a process of continuous, collective learning and improvement.

PCC was also pleased to announce Catalyst Grants in the amount of $12,000 for all ILEA colleges and universities publishing their Equity Plans this year, as the result of a grant from a local foundation. Please read below and also look for an email from your ILEA Equity Program Manager this week for more information on how to access the Catalyst Grant. We look forward to continuing to identify opportunities for greater philanthropic investment in your equity work.

In the months that remain of 2020, we look forward to seeing you virtually at a number of upcoming events, including at the 2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit, which is dedicated to the critical role of faculty in eliminating equity disparities on campus. We have spent a significant amount of time adapting the schedule and session approaches to be conducive to a virtual event, and we look forward to sharing that with all of you. Because we are not bound by physical limitations presented by an in-person event, we encourage you to invite at least 25 faculty and department chairs from your institutions to join us for these sessions. We also hope to see many of you at our ongoing Equity Webinar series and at additional workshops that will be announced in the coming weeks.

We know the demands on your time will continue to be substantial, and we recognize all you do to ensure your students are safe and supported. I hope that despite all of the challenges with which you are faced in this moment, you can enjoy some of the beauty that the fall season offers -- at a safe distance and with a mask, of course.

In partnership for equity,

Lisa Castillo Richmond

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Moving Equity from the Margin to the Center: Releasing the Campus Wide ILEA Equity Plans

Julian Williams, Ph.D., Equity Program Manager | Aug 20, 2020

Eliminating disparities in degree attainment between Black and White students, Latinx and White students and Pell-receipt and non-Pell receipt students is no small task -- but it is the challenge that our 28 college and university partners publicly committed to addressing when they volunteered to join the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) initiative.

Across the nation institutions have eliminated gaps on their campuses when they have had leaders committed to equity and a plan to guide their work. Our ILEA partners joined the initiative because their leaders were committed to equity. The Partnership's task was to help them develop an Equity Plan, connected to but not the same as their institutional strategic plan, to eliminate inequities. 

ILEA began with the belief that institutions can eliminate gaps in degree attainment if they systematically examine their policies and practices to identify barriers to momentum, identify and implement institutional strategies that are proven or have promise to address inequities, and track and evaluate their efforts on an ongoing basis so that they can make adjustments as they learn what works and what does not work.

Developing the ILEA Equity Plan

ILEA began with 25 institutional partners in 2018; and has grown to 28 institutional partners in 2020. Our partners are community colleges and 4-year public and private institutions. While each institution is in the state of Illinois, they can differ significantly in size, culture, structure, and the students that they serve. So, we set out to design an equity plan structure that was common enough to be used across 28 different institutions, but not so prescriptive as to diminish what makes each institution unique.

We ultimately developed an equity plan structure that asked each institution to name and examine their existing disparities, set interim benchmarks for key leading indicators, identify institutional strategies to address their existing inequities, and to develop a process for tracking and evaluating their results so that they could learn from, iterate upon, and improve equity outcomes for their students.

The development of each plan was spearheaded by a dynamic group of cross-departmental and cross-functional campus leaders that we call the ILEA Leadership Team. Over the course of 18 months, each ILEA Leadership team organized, coordinated, and engaged stakeholders across their respective institutions to create their campus wide equity plan.

Supporting Equity Plan Development

To support the development of our partner's equity plans we developed a process that was high-touch, supportive, and responsive. Our supports included an: instruction guide, how-to webinar series, template document, and individualized feedback. The instruction guide explained the purpose of the plan and described each suggested section. The how-to webinar series complimented the instruction guide by providing live presentations about each section of the plan. The template provided an optional pre-formatted document that partners could use to embed their narrative, data, and charts. And lastly, and most importantly, each ILEA partner was paired with an Equity Program Manager from the Partnership that provided individualized feedback on their plan over the course of its development. Additionally, institutions will submit annual reflections about their equity plan implementation and the resulting student outcomes – successes, challenges and how they plan to adapt their plan in the year ahead based on lessons learned.

As a result of yearlong planning process, our ILEA partners will implement a wide range of institutional strategies to eliminate inequities in degree completion on their campuses. Some strategies are new to their institutions, while other strategies existed previously but will be refined or scaled to serve more students. Here is a list of some of the major institutional strategies that our ILEA partners will be implementing on their campus's this fall:

  1. First year mentoring programs (peer; faculty)
  2. New financial supports for students (emergency scholarships, completion/reengagement grants; population specific grants)
  3. Addressing basic needs and non-academic supports (food pantries, textbook reform, social-emotional learning, social belonging)
  4. Creating or better supporting student organizations related to student identity/belonging/culture (Black student unions, Spanish clubs)
  5. Reforming first year courses & sequences (gateway courses; college success courses, orientation; bridge programs)
  6. TRIO programs and additional targeted wraparound supports (McNair Scholars; Male Success Initiatives; Latino Success)
  7. Academic advising reforms (early alerts; targeted advising)
  8. Reforming developmental education courses/placement
  9. Creating population specific success committees and councils
  10. Providing faculty professional development (high impact teaching practices and cultural competency/responsiveness)


We are honored to have had the opportunity to partner with such a dynamic group of institutions and to support the development of their equity plans, which will provide a roadmap for their targeted approaches over the next several years. The institutional introspection was difficult, the development process was imperfect, and COVID-19 required every institution to operate differently nearly overnight – yet, they persisted. Their equity plans are a public display of their commitment to equity. We are thrilled to announce the release of the ILEA Equity Plans and excited to continue supporting our ILEA partners as they begin implementation this fall.

In Partnership,
Julian Williams, Ph.D.

Equity Program Manager | Partnership for College Completion 

Learn more about Equity Plans here.


ILEA Equity Speaks

Read perspectives from leaders at Morton College, Richard J. Daley College, and Roosevelt University about the mission driving their Equity Plan and experience developing it in the ILEA Equity Speaks Blog Series. 

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Guest Blog: ILEA Equity Speaks, Richard J. Daley College

Ahead of the upcoming public release of Equity Plans from partners of the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA), leaders at ILEA institution Richard J. Daley College shared highlights of two of their cross-departmental strategies to address identified equity gaps.

Read the full blog here:


Learn more about Daley College's Equity Plan, part of the public release of ILEA Equity Plans here.  For more about ILEA, visit here now.

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Guest Blog: ILEA Equity Speaks, Morton College

In conjunction with the public release of Equity Plans from partners of the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA), leaders at ILEA institution Morton College shared their experience developing their plan.

Read the full blog here:



Learn more about the ILEA Equity Plans here.

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Guest Blog: ILEA Equity Speaks, Roosevelt University

In conjunction with the public release of Equity Plans from partners of the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA), leaders Katrina Coakley, Associate Provost for Student Success and Jamar Orr, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, at ILEA institution Roosevelt University center the importance of Equity Plans in working for justice for underrepresented students amid the drastic and disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic and widespread outcries for policing reform and social equality following the murder of George Floyd.

Read the full blog here:


Learn more about the ILEA Equity Plans here.

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Chicago State Organizes Statewide Effort To Boost College Success For Illinois’ Black Students

July 30, 2020

by KATE MCGEE - WBEZ

Faced with a 25% drop in Black enrollment at Illinois' public universities and colleges, a group of university officials, business leaders and advocacy groups are joining together to try to improve outcomes for Black students. The drop in enrollment, as well as declining graduation rates, have come while rates for other underrepresented student groups have increased.

Chicago State University, Illinois' only predominantly Black university, announced Thursday it is forming a working group to increase opportunities for Black students to enroll and graduate from college and find good jobs.

"Black students are having a different experience from that of white students," said CSU President Zaldwaynaka Scott. "[We] need to figure out what is at the root cause that is creating more obstacles, roadblocks and impediments to that."

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Black student enrollment at public universities and community colleges dropped 25% between 2013 and 2017. The percentage of Black students graduating from public universities and community colleges dropped 12% during that same time.

A recent report from the nonprofit, the Education Trust, recently gave the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago "F" grades for their Black student enrollments, which are 6% and 8% respectively, and make up a slightly smaller percentage of the student body than they did two decades ago. This week, the university pledged $2 million to prioritize faculty research and campus discussions on systemic racism.

While Illinois has seen its black population decline in recent years, Scott said there are more fundamental issues at play, which has been made more apparent by the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Black community and the current national reckoning on systemic racism and policing after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

"This whole system is not working for Black people," Scott said. "It's not just higher ed's problem. Our entire state are stakeholders in the outcome."

The working group will be chaired by Scott, Illinois Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago), John Atkinson, Chair of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Karen Freeman-Wilson, President of the Chicago Urban League. The group includes public and private university leaders, state lawmakers, and representatives from businesses including John Deere, AT&T and the Hyatt Corporation. It also includes representatives from community advocacy groups.

"Through a long history of disinvestment in our state's public universities and community colleges, Illinois has, through state policy, limited opportunities for students and families who are least able to afford to attend college, and those students are disproportionately African American," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion and a member of the working group. "[I] hope that this collection of legislative and institutional leaders can increase the momentum towards enacting policies to remove barriers to success for Black students."

Scott said she'd like to see recommendations that focus on the transition from high school to college to better support Black students interested in a degree, including financial literacy and more college-level coursework in high schools. She also said continued financial resources beyond tuition grants and scholarships are key for students who are discouraged or overwhelmed by the additional cost of college, such as books, living expenses and food. Meanwhile, Westbrook pointed to policies that he says are barriers for students, including using standardized test scores for admissions and requiring underprepared college students to take developmental or remedial education classes before being able to take college-level courses.

The first meeting is scheduled for September 10. The goal is to develop an equity plan that includes policy recommendations by January 2021 ahead of the next legislative session.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter@WBEZeducationand@McGeeReports.

Source: https://www.wbez.org/stories/chicago-state-organizes-statewide-effort-to-boost-college-success-for-illinois-black-students/155b8f83-6b84-4853-83e3-b3840636efbc


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PCC Letter to Illinois General Assembly Higher Education Committees

As advocates seeking to support institutions in eliminating racial equity gaps across Illinois colleges and universities, the Partnership for College Completion stands in solidarity with the Black community and their calls for justice. This unprecedented period shows how deeply ingrained racial injustice is within systems intended to serve the public, demonstrated by continued violence on the Black community at the hands of law enforcement, inequitable lending, and inequitable access to high-quality healthcare. In higher education, inequitable policies perpetuate college access and completion disparities, limiting Black students' higher education opportunities.

The Partnership recommends three critical policy changes that can have an immediate, significant effect on racial equity. Read the full letter here. 

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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Brandon Nichols, Ed.D, Olive–Harvey College

1. What is your current role/title?

I currently serve as Vice President, Academic Affairs.

2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?

Sociology – BS, University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign,

Clinical Psychology – MA, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC,

Counseling Psychology – Ed.D, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC

3. How did your college/university support your success in earning your degrees?

Mentorship and socialization opportunities were essential to my development, growth, success. For minoritized students, mentoring is often considered a crucial resource to foster support systems of role models and to garner the academic success. At my undergraduate and graduate institutions, mentor groups, extended new student orientation for students of color, social organizations, and guidance counseling for undeclared majors provided structure and knowledge gaps in navigating a path for successful completion.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?

It is gratifying to empower students in reaching their full potential by removing barriers that have historically impacted minoritized students. At Olive-Harvey College, we use a high-touch approach to engage every student to meet their needs to ensure success and completion for all students seeking a credential.

5. In your role, how do you impact equitable outcomes for your students?

As Vice President of Olive-Harvey College, I am grounded in a person-centered and mission-driven approach, through a civic and equity lens. I am currently a member of the College's Illinois Equity Attainment Committee and supporter of the College's Equity Plan. The Plan details specific strategies to support academic success, social integration, and student completion. To support student completion efforts through equity, the College has developed tactics to refine classroom instruction, measuring learning, co-curricular learning, and civic. In my role, I am in support equity through the following​:

  • Faculty development of culturally responsive pedagogy and teaching

  • Multiple measures of learning assessments and tests to align with student learning preferences through face-to-face and hybrid modes of instruction

  • Social integration and exploratory co-curricular opportunities through field and work-based learning experiences

  • Civic engagement through public service events and social justice support (i.e. voter registration, trash clean-up, and community townhalls)


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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Brandon Nichols, Ed.D, Olive–Harvey College

1. What is your current role/title?

I currently serve as Vice President, Academic Affairs.

2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?

Sociology – BS, University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign,

Clinical Psychology – MA, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC,

Counseling Psychology – Ed.D, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC

3. How did your college/university support your success in earning your degrees?

Mentorship and socialization opportunities were essential to my development, growth, success. For minoritized students, mentoring is often considered a crucial resource to foster support systems of role models and to garner the academic success. At my undergraduate and graduate institutions, mentor groups, extended new student orientation for students of color, social organizations, and guidance counseling for undeclared majors provided structure and knowledge gaps in navigating a path for successful completion.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?

It is gratifying to empower students in reaching their full potential by removing barriers that have historically impacted minoritized students. At Olive-Harvey College, we use a high-touch approach to engage every student to meet their needs to ensure success and completion for all students seeking a credential.

5. In your role, how do you impact equitable outcomes for your students?

As Vice President of Olive-Harvey College, I am grounded in a person-centered and mission-driven approach, through a civic and equity lens. I am currently a member of the College's Illinois Equity Attainment Committee and supporter of the College's Equity Plan. The Plan details specific strategies to support academic success, social integration, and student completion. To support student completion efforts through equity, the College has developed tactics to refine classroom instruction, measuring learning, co-curricular learning, and civic. In my role, I am in support equity through the following​:

  • Faculty development of culturally responsive pedagogy and teaching

  • Multiple measures of learning assessments and tests to align with student learning preferences through face-to-face and hybrid modes of instruction

  • Social integration and exploratory co-curricular opportunities through field and work-based learning experiences

  • Civic engagement through public service events and social justice support (i.e. voter registration, trash clean-up, and community townhalls)


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Op-Ed: City Colleges Makes Bold Move Toward Equity

July 14, 2020

by KYLE WESTBROOK, PH.D. - Crain's Chicago Business

For far too many of our students, and members of our community, the emails that filled our inboxes a month ago affirming the importance of racial equity, rang hollow. With no concrete, bold, and demonstrable action to follow, these messages can easily be filed away in the spam folder of white guilt relief. That email from a company or even a college or university may make the authors feel proud of a well-crafted response to the moment, but it does little to address the enduring structural racism baked into our institutions.

While companies such as Chicago's Quaker Oats and D.C.'s pro football team have made important steps to remove the worst iconography of racism and oppression from their brands, fewer have taken the most meaningful steps in actually investing money into dismantling institutional racism and providing the foundation for a future that has justice at its core.

This is why the incredible step taken by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado is so important. By cancelling the college debt for some 21,000 students who re-enroll in City Colleges, Mayor Lightfoot and Chancellor Salgado acknowledge two important facts: first, that the increasing cost of college limits opportunity for students who are least able to afford it, and second, that it is high time to get serious about investing in the tens of thousands of residents who started their journey to a degree or credential but were unable to complete it. This debt forgiveness program also represents a modest investment toward rectifying the economic injustice heaped on the backs of Chicago's black and brown communities for decades.

A 2017 Brookings Institute report described a crisis in which black student borrowers with a Bachelor's degree default at a rate five times higher than their white peers--20% versus 4%, respectively, making it no surprise that the wealth gap between black and white America has persisted. City Colleges of Chicago's investment announced this week can go a long way toward reversing this trend for the largely black and brown students who would be Fresh Start's major beneficiaries.

This important investment in our city's future should not stand alone but should be matched by other public and private colleges and universities in and around our city, and should provide the blueprint on how to aggressively prioritize racial equity now and in the future.

Here are 5 other steps that colleges and universities should take today to make good on their email messaging about racial equity:

  1. Permanently eliminate SAT and ACT from their admissions decisions.
  2. Eliminate or radically reduce developmental education courses which limit opportunities for black and brown students.
  3. Commit substantial resources to recruiting and retaining black and brown faculty.
  4. Make eliminating the racial gap in degree completion the highest priority for the institution and commit to sharing disaggregated data on completion and student progress.
  5. Actively recruit in every single high school in the city of Chicago to ensure that our institutions, especially our public institutions, represent the diversity of our student population.

If cash-strapped City Colleges can make this kind of investment in its future and racial justice at the same time, so can others.

Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D., is the founding executive director of the Partnership for College Completion, a nonprofit promoting policies, systems, and practices to ensure all students in Illinois graduate from college and achieve their career aspirations.

Source: https://www.chicagobusiness.com/opinion/city-colleges-makes-bold-move-toward-equity


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Choosing Illinois Community Colleges: Investing in Our Communities

My college journey started at Illinois Central College (ICC), one of Illinois' 48 public community colleges located on a bluff overlooking the Illinois River. My commute from Peoria was 30 minutes by car, 60 by bus which I often had to take. I sometimes worked three jobs to pay for school. I was a scrappy B+ student in high school (HS) and immersed myself in my studies for 12 months before earning a transfer scholarship to Bradley University. That was 1980-1981.

When I reflect on my experiences as well as on the challenges college students today face, I think about the role community colleges play in our higher education ecosystem. My work with the Partnership for College Completion and the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative (ILEA) provides me an opportunity to support 17 Illinois community colleges who have committed to being agents of change to address racial and socio-economic disparities on their campuses that result in inequitable graduation rates (35% of all community colleges in Illinois). As I think about community colleges providing a better path forward for many students, three things come to mind:

1) Community: The roots of community colleges are diverse and deeply connected to partnerships with K-12 education, industry, healthcare and government in the communities they serve. These roots support the primary functions of community colleges: providing pathways to 4-year degrees, career and technical training, high school partnerships and continuing education. The communities where our state's community colleges operate include our nation's first public community college, Joliet Junior College (1901), Waubonsee Community College, named after the Potawatomi chief, Waubonsie, College of DuPage (the state's largest CC) and the seven City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), two of which are named for three slain civil rights leaders, Malcolm X College and Kennedy-King College. The communities where our state's community colleges serve a vital role are home to the Illinois Medical District, Mondelez International, Walgreens and United Airlines. In FY 2019, Illinois' 48 community colleges enrolled 664,973 students or nearly 36% of all students (highest across all sectors in the state). That means that across Illinois, one out of every three students who have utilized public services and accessed health care, participated in the local workforce, sent their children to local schools, and spent money in their local communities – essentially supporting their local economy – has been a community college student.

2) Choice: ICC was my only choice. It was affordable. Sometimes choice boils down to where you were born, how much wealth your family has and what kind of curve balls you have already faced before enrolling in college. Community colleges play an important role in providing access for many students who have historically been underserved. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, community colleges serve as the entry point to higher education for over 41% of all undergraduates, including 52% of all Latinx and 42% of all Black students. In 2015-2016, 59% of community college students received some form of financial aid, including federal grants (34%), federal loans (15%) and state aid (22%). Additionally, 29% identify as first generation and 15% are single parents.[1] That means one out of four students enrolling in colleges across the country, chose a community college as their starting point.

3) Costs: In 2018-2019, the annual tuition costs and fees for in-state students enrolling in 30 credit hours at public four-year colleges in Illinois ranged from $11,803 to $16,004.[2] For independent, non-profit colleges, it ranged from $7,600 to $57,006.[3] Comparatively, at IL community colleges, full-time, in-district tuition and fees ranged from $3,504 to $5,220.[4] Though costs are less at community colleges, students received fewer federal (11%) and state (10%) financial aid dollars compared to those at four-year public (federal 29%, state 65%) and private (federal 33%, state 21%) institutions in FY 2010-2011.[5] That means the cost of attending an Illinois community college is 50% less than the lowest cost at a public four-year institution, but not all of the students who need federal and state support to cover the costs receive it.

The cost of attending an Illinois community college is 50% less than the lowest cost at a public four-year institution, but not all of the students who need federal and state support to cover the costs receive it.

As we approach the 2020-2021 academic year, many more students may choose to stay closer to their communities. The pandemic, a loss of a job or caring for a loved one at home may force choices for some. For Latinx, Black, first generation and low-income students, racial and socio-economic systemic barriers have historically played a significant role in their choice. When we consider the social injustices playing out on our streets and the need for additional investment in our communities, we should also consider leveling the playing field for the college students who need it the most. Community colleges that are focused on equity in degree completion and increasing overall rates of student success require greater investment for our most vulnerable students.

My community and the support I received from caring professors and practitioners grounded my love for higher education, and my start at ICC helped shape me into the person I am today. Forty years later, I am certain there are many stories like mine waiting to be told across our prairies, rural areas, suburbs and urban communities. 


[1] American Association of Community colleges, 2020. Fast Facts 2020.

[2] IBHE Records, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Undergraduate based on 30 credit hours, Tuition and Required Fees, Room and Board for Full-Time, In-State Entering Undergraduate Students, 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 Academic Years.

[3] IBHE Records, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Undergraduate based on 30 credit hours, Tuition and Required Fees, Room and Board for Full-Time, First-Time Undergraduate Students, 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 Academic Years

[4] Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) Records, Annual Tuition and Required Fees, Room and Board for Full-Time, In-District Students at Public Community colleges, 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 Academic Years.

[5] IBHE Records, Student Financial Aid Survey, Distribution of Financial Aid Dollars in Illinois, All Students by Source, Sector, and Type For Fiscal Year 2010 -2011. 

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