Lisa assumed the role of Executive Director in August 2021, succeeding PCC's founding Executive Director Dr. Kyle Westbrook. A native of Illinois, Lisa returned to the state to help launch PCC in late 2016, where she has since served as the organization's Managing Director. Lisa was previously the Executive Director of the college...
Lisa assumed the role of Executive Director in August 2021, succeeding PCC's founding Executive Director Dr. Kyle Westbrook. A native of Illinois, Lisa returned to the state to help launch PCC in late 2016, where she has since served as the organization's Managing Director. Lisa was previously the Executive Director of the college completion initiative Graduate NYC at the City University of New York and spent several years leading national and local program teams, predominantly in the area of college access and success. As a first generation college student, she is deeply committed to deploying system-level solutions to address inequities in higher education.
 
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Applied Equity in Higher Education - September 2021

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A Letter from the Executive Director

Dear ILEA Partners,

Welcome to another new academic year that, paired with the colorful change of the seasons here in the Midwest, has always filled me with hope and excitement for the year ahead as both a student and an educator. I am so pleased to be writing to you in my new capacity as the second Executive Director of PCC, succeeding our founding ED Dr. Kyle Westbrook last month. I am honored to have the opportunity to lead PCC's talented team in this next chapter, while continuing to expand our work with you – our committed college and university partners – as you make progress on our shared aspirations for greater racial and socioeconomic equity across Illinois' higher education system.

This year, the PCC will continue to expand and enhance our ILEA Programming and supports in response to your feedback. We have further developed programming for the ILEA Equity Academy for Presidents and Cabinets and will offer an opportunity for all ILEA teams to join or continue their engagement. We have an excellent lineup of speakers on deck for the ILEA Annual Summit on November 3-5, 2021 and the Winter Equity Institute in February 2022. We will continue to offer support in building your institutional data capacity and will begin new Learning Communities for cross-institutional discussion and collaboration through the Equity Circles for Change. Stay tuned for additional announcements in the coming weeks regarding new opportunities for professional development to build team efficacy on equity efforts, new tools and resources, and opportunities for dialogue within and outside of the ILEA Initiative.

In this newsletter, we share a new feature within the spotlight section called Equity in Practice, which will elevate the institutional equity work begin implemented on your campuses. We look forward to using this as one of multiple places where these stories will be shared. We have also renamed this section Applied Equity in Higher Education in which we will use this space to highlight the urgency of our equity efforts and the concrete actions necessary to remove institutional barriers and target supports so all of our students have an equitable opportunity to earn their degrees. This is equity as action, practiced as a verb.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage this month, I want to draw attention to why we must pair our equity work with action for our Latinx students. Hispanic Heritage has been recognized and celebrated in the U.S. in some form since the late 1960s, with the September 15 kick-off chosen for its connection to the timing of independence of several Latin American countries. Most of you will host virtual and in-person events this month to recognize the celebration, as nearly all ILEA institutions are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs - 17) or emerging HSIs (5). Among all Latinx undergraduates in Illinois, 42% attend ILEA colleges and universities. Collectively, just over one-quarter of all of your students are Latinx – representing more than 40,000 potential future Latinx graduates of your institutions[1], with many more following in their footsteps each year. That represents an incredible opportunity and responsibility for your equity efforts to result in tens of thousands of degrees for Illinois' Latinx students.

Your work on this front matters a great deal. Latinx adults are underrepresented among associate and bachelor's degree earners in every state.[2]According to the Education Trust, only 20.4% of Latinx adults in Illinois have a college degree – a 30 point disparity with White adults. In Illinois, Latinx students represent 24.9% of associate degree seekers, earning a grade of A- from the Education Trust in terms of proportionality to the state's population, and 18.8% of bachelor's degree seekers, earning a grade of C-. In terms of degree completion, as we know, we fare worse. In terms of how well the percentage of degrees awarded to Latinx undergraduates reflects the racial and ethnic composition of the population in Illinois, we receive a D for associate degrees conferred and an F for bachelor's degrees.[3]

We know that representation matters and many of your Equity Plans reinforce this point as they include strategies to achieve greater diversity among faculty, staff, and administration. Even still, in 2018 Latinx women and men make up only 6% of all full-time faculty in the U.S.[4]

With 22 ILEA institutions that are current or aspiring HSIs, we can and will do better in serving our Latinx students and ensuring that our hiring, promotion, and tenure practices for faculty and staff move us toward greater representation of the rich diversity of our students and state.

As the semester is now well underway, I hope will all find time for reflection with your teams on the first year of Equity Plan implementation, make adjustments, and set ambitious goals for the year ahead. The team at the PCC is doing the same as we celebrate five years since our founding and three years since the launch of ILEA. I also hope you can find time to enjoy this most beautiful season and to read an excellent book by a Latinx author (book lists here, here, and here), perhaps while curling up with something warm to drink and the requisite apple cider donut.

In partnership for equity,

Lisa


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[1] Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) Enrollment & Degree System http://www.ibhe.org/EnrollmentsDegrees/

[2] Broken Mirrors: Latino Student Representation at State Public Colleges and Universities (Education Trust) https://edtrustmain.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/10123122/Broken-Mirrors-Latino-Student-Representation-at-State-Public-Colleges-and-Universities-September-2019.pdf

[3] State Equity Report Card – Illinois http://stateequity.org/state/illinois

[4] National Center for Education Statistics https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/csc

twitter bird 200x200 Connect with me on Twitter at @Lili_Castille and let’s discuss what Latinx authors we’re reading this month!


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Policy Quarterly: Letter from PCC's New Executive Director, Lisa Castillo Richmond

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Dear PCC Partners,

It is my honor and pleasure to be writing to you as the second Executive Director of PCC, succeeding our founding ED Dr. Kyle Westbrook in August. I have worked alongside Kyle over the past five years to build this organization, and it has been the most rewarding experience of my professional life. PCC's talented team; deeply committed policy partners; bold, thoughtful, and innovative institutional partners; and the significant work that remains ahead of us present promising opportunities for PCC to continue in its pursuit to address longstanding inequities in Illinois' higher education system.

I grew up in Northern Illinois, the daughter of an electrician and a devoted mostly stay-at-home mom who also kept the books for their business. I was the first in my family to go to college, a fact that I only considered in moments of frustration or difficulty, such as when I was navigating the college application process or struggling with the rigor of my college courses and juggling jobs. I was always aware that it was a privilege for me to be in college, and that I had many advantages others did not. It wasn't until I was working in education after college that I learned I was a "first generation college student", which took me down a path of trying to understand the dismal data on how the U.S. was failing Black students, Latinx students, Indigenous students, students who needed financial supports, and first generation students – this despite the 'college for all' mantra. How could the often heroic efforts of students, combined with expanding numbers of dedicated programs of academic, social, emotional, and financial supports for college students be insufficiently matched to the challenge? Of course, the answer to that question involves an understanding of the deeply ingrained, systemic, and historical nature of our educational inequities, in how our systems are designed and funded, and often codified in law. Over a career of studying these issues, consuming data, and witnessing firsthand the stories of many students across the country, I know this to be true. And when you see this – you begin to see it everywhere.

Today there is a much greater awareness of these structural inequities in higher education than there was certainly a decade ago, or even when PCC began in 2016. When we look to solutions to address the urgency of reforming these systems, we at PCC believe our two most powerful levers are policy change (state and federal) and institutional-level actions on policy and practice led by leaders at all levels within colleges and universities, all of which must be supported by data and research. Our many partners in ILEA colleges and universities, in the state legislature, state agencies, and in other nonprofit and advocacy organizations are showing what is possible when higher education takes responsibility for its student outcomes.

In our next chapter as an organization, as this work continues and expands, we look forward to documenting and elevating the stories of how our state's institutions and systems changed the equity narrative and truly became a system for all Illinoisans.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to build an equitable higher education system in this state. We are grateful to be on this journey with you.

In partnership for equity, 

Lisa Castillo Richmond

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Equity in Action - May 2021

Dear ILEA Partners,

In a really difficult year, what has kept us going at PCC is the tireless work being done by all of you across the ILEA network. You have shown incredible resilience as institutions, as leaders, as educators. You have also demonstrated deep commitment to students and your institutional missions. This is apparent in how you have reached out directly and regularly to connect with students; directed financial resources to them; obtained hardware and connectivity to continue online learning; provided for basic needs; changed college policies, timing, and procedures to center student needs; and so much more. This has all been done in an effort to enable students to persist with their college plans in the midst of the many hardships faced by all.

You have also stayed the course on your Equity Plans. The finalizing, publishing, and first year of implementation of the plans have coincided nearly imperfectly with the pandemic. And while much work and rethinking will be required to adjust to our current reality, the foundation has been laid and the work has not stopped. I have heard the stories you have told in our zoom calls. I have seen it in the news articles and read it in your tweets, presentations, and press releases. I have listened to your plans, inquiry, and response as we have looked at data together in our capacity building sessions. I have observed it as you have shown up for Equity Academies, core team meetings, webinars, and more. If anything, the work has accelerated.

We remain clear-eyed, but hopeful about the challenges in the months ahead. The overall decline in college enrollments this past fall has, as expected, continued into the spring. As with the effects of the pandemic, this has not been distributed equally across the higher education landscape. We have seen dramatic declines in enrollments for nearly all student groups, but the far greatest declines have been for students who are Black, Latinx, low-income, over 25 years old, and male. We are also seeing overall declines in enrollment for 18-20 year olds. This has hit many of our community colleges hardest, as they are those that serve the largest numbers of students who have been disproportionately impacted economically and physically by COVID-19. The average declines also mask significant variance across institutions. All of this has caused serious concern about if this will represent an educational pause for these students, or if it will become a lost slice of the college-going population. We cannot let it be the latter.

While many challenges remain that draw our attention, I remain hopeful about the year ahead. In the coming weeks we will celebrate with you as you graduate thousands of students from your institutions. We are awarding 19 Catalyst Grants totaling nearly $230K to ILEA colleges and universities for new approaches you will deploy. We will also highlight your work through the second annual Higher Education Matters campaign (May 10-14). As vaccination rates rise and you make plans to bring back greater numbers of students to campus in the fall, the PCC will continue to expand our programming to support your equity efforts in response to the significant feedback you have shared with us this year. We will enhance and expand our Annual ILEA Summit (November 3-5, 2021), Winter Equity Institute (February 24-25, 2022), and professional development offerings. We will also release the first Annual ILEA Report, document and elevate your work, launch a formal evaluation of ILEA, offer opportunities for dialogue across the network, and release a number of tools and resources on a revamped PCC website for you to utilize and access on demand.

As we look ahead to long summer days, I hope you all have a chance to enjoy some sunshine and reconnect with loved ones this summer. As we close out the most difficult year of many of our work and personal lives, we must prioritize time to care for ourselves, in order to continue to show up for our students and colleagues.

Thank you for your heroic efforts this year. Your work on higher education equity, especially in the midst of a crisis, will be a model for those across the country who will follow in your footsteps.

In partnership for equity,

Lisa

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Equity in Action

Dear ILEA Partners,

It has been wonderful to see many of your faces on Zoom in February as we conclude our first month of substantial ILEA programming of the new year. While we are grateful for the opportunity provided by virtual events and discussions to continue to engage and move our collective work forward during the pandemic, we miss the opportunity afforded by in-person engagement. The ILEA team is currently considering what our future mix of programming, virtual and in-person, will look like when we are again able to gather in the same space. We would love to hear from you as we develop plans for our professional development and convening supports in 2021-22 and beyond.

In this month of honoring Black history, I want to pose a question for us all to consider as practitioners of racial equity in higher education. How do we place undue burdens on our Black students as we seek to support them better?This remains true even as we acknowledge that today's racial disparities within our higher education system are derivative of historical and ongoing inequities connected to the design and culture of our colleges and universities; structural inequities that exist in our legal, banking, labor market, housing, voting, and other systems; as well as through the unacknowledged and lasting legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. As the events of this and last year have shown, white supremacy and racism remain, and are every bit as American as the stars and stripes. This week, as we surpass the grim milestone of more than half a million U.S. deaths due to COVID-19, which has had a disproportionately devastating impact on communities of color, we must carefully consider what we are asking of our students in the process of becoming more equitable institutions.

Where do we see examples of this happening? One such place is via the FAFSA verification process, discovered through an analysis conducted by the Washington Post. The investigation found that students are more likely to be selected from Black (1.8x more likely) and Latinx (1.4x more likely) neighborhoods for verification, a type of audit process that often requires several additional points of information. This onerous process causes between 11-25% of students selected to drop out of the FAFSA application process altogether, a phenomenon known as verification melt. We know many of those students may never show up at any college as a result.

On our campuses, this may show up in repeatedly asking our Black staff to be the only ones to lead discussions on race or racism. Among our historically white colleges and universities, students and staff of color may be the 'only' or one of the few in their classes, on the committee, or in the department. Continuing to ask the same people to explain how your institutions may not be serving them well, despite years of campus climate surveys and other forms of feedback, places undue burden on those students and staff, and can negatively affect retention. Bringing awareness to these realities and responding with action, is an important part of this work.

What can we do about this? First, this work requires a deep and sustained commitment to self-reflection. This must happen regularly at the level of the individual, the team, and the institution. Second, we must commit to broadening the number of individuals who speak clearly about equity, what it means to our institutions, and why it matters. All ILEA leadership team members and department heads should work to become fluent in the language of higher education equity, and continue to build the army of equity agents within your institutions. Finally, resources in the form of books, case studies, Ted talks, PCC webinars and events, and others exist to support your continued progress on equity. One Chicago-based foundation, College Beyond, framed it this way in a guidebook they produced: Why am I Always Being Researched? This publication examines how a power imbalance exists that influences what we ask students and how.

I encourage you to consider how this may be true within your own institutions. As we survey students to gather critical data, how can we ensure we are removing barriers and not placing additional roadblocks in the way of student success?As we create new required touchpoints with students, how do we make sure these are supportive of their success and not deterrents to their continued persistence? How do we ensure we are not pathologizing students who are overcoming incredible challenges to complete their degrees?

Thank you for all you do every day to change the narrative of historic inequity in Illinois higher education. Your leadership is paving the way for more significant change across the state and nation, and the students you graduate will be those that continue to do better for every subsequent generation.

In partnership for equity,

Lisa

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Data for Equity Action

Dear ILEA Partners,

It has been wonderful to see your faces onscreen at our virtual events this fall. Thank you for continuing to prioritize the equity work on your campuses in ways that will strengthen your institutions economically and academically, as places of excellence in which to study, work, and grow.

The year 2020 has been a year of considerable challenge, but we have also discovered many pleasant surprises in our work together. As you have demonstrated, we found that it is possible to continue to build community with all of you, engage in important dialogues, and deliver effective online programming on various equity topics that can increase capacity for this work on your teams. As always, the resources produced by our team have been created in direct response to feedback and requests we receive from you. We thank you for taking the time to share your feedback and reach out to us with individual requests. We continue to value this engagement with you to better target our programming and to ensure its ongoing relevance to your most pressing needs.

As our ILEA institutional research colleagues finalize the submission of baseline data to the NSC PDP and your teams gain access to your dashboards, the PCC team is busy creating opportunities to support you in building data capacity in the coming year. We recognize that on this measure, as with many others, ILEA teams are in different places on the journey to democratizing disaggregated data throughout the institutional decision-making process.

As you consider institutional data, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you regularly share disaggregated data across your institution with various stakeholders (faculty, staff, students)?

  • Does your leadership team or department regularly use disaggregated data to make decisions?

  • Does your team or department regularly use disaggregated data to evaluate the impact of decisions/equity strategies?

  • Do you closely examine  data for ILEA equity populations (Black students, Latinx students, and students who are Pell recipients)?

If the answer is 'no' to any of these questions – what is your plan to get to that point? Additionally, do you regularly collect qualitative data to supplement and provide context to quantitative data?Finally, do you provide opportunities for your team to consider this data and make sense of it? All of these are critical components to building a strong data culture within your institutions.

Though we are all working to impact graduation rates, these measures are lagging indicators. Lagging indicators provide us with a look back at the cumulative experience of students within our institutions. As we collectively implement strategies to eliminate inequities in degree completion by race, ethnicity, and Pell status, the regular use of leading indicators will be a critical tool to get us there.

Leading indicators or early momentum metrics:

  • provide timely, just-in-time data
  • are shorter term measures
  • are actionable metrics that are close to practice
  • are a form of early alert
  • have predictive power, research has shown
  • allow us to test hypotheses and move the equity needle
  • are formative
  • are easier to control


As your teams become familiar with the NSC PDP dashboards – which may look different from some of the institutional data you are used to reviewing because it includes all full-time, part-time, first-time, not first-time student – regardless of when they entered your institution – you can identify the leading indicators that are available to you. These include: first year enrollment, credit accumulation rate, credit completion ratio, gateway course completion, persistence and retention, degree completion, and time to degree as well as the ability to disaggregate by race and first-generation. There is also the ability to benchmark these measures against peer institutions.

We look forward to continuing the data conversation with you through our upcoming data capacity-building opportunities that will be announced next month. These workshops, presentations, and courses will be designed for teams at different points in their development and your participation will be optional.

The New Year will also bring new programming in other areas, tools and resources for use on your campuses, opportunities for collaboration across ILEA colleges and universities, and targeted individual supports. We look forward to sharing more with you.

As we reflect on this year, we feel so inspired by the evidence we have seen in the past couple months alone, of increasing equity organization and momentum on your teams and within your colleges and universities. We hope all of you can take a moment this season to appreciate that progress, too.

We wish you a safe, restful, and rejuvenating holiday season. 2021 awaits!

In partnership for equity,

Lisa.

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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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No Matter Where You Are, Illinois Colleges & Universities Matter

Lisa Castillo Richmond, PCC Managing Director | May 19, 2020

While the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on daily life for people across the globe, it has also brought to light the best of humanity, perhaps especially within higher education. In recent weeks, Illinois colleges and universities have carried on their missions by deploying critical resources to aid in students' ability to continue progressing toward degrees. It has become painfully clear how existing societal inequities in access to housing, food, healthcare, and employment have both been laid bare and exacerbated by COVID-19. Because of this, colleges and universities have mobilized overnight to continue academic programming, while working around the clock to meet the needs of those within their communities who have been most affected. It is because of Illinois' diverse and expansive higher education system that the state's pandemic response has been so comprehensive, with resources deployed so quickly and efficiently to all corners of the state.

The speed with which everything changed was dizzying. Closing campuses, which seemed unthinkable at the start of the semester and unlikely one month later, became inevitable by the beginning of March. Institutions, many of which offered very few courses online at the time, moved all their instruction and programming to a virtual environment in the matter of a week. Upon campus closures, students dispersed across the state and beyond, often facing new financial and environmental challenges that affected their learning. Technology had to be acquired, learned, and deployed with changes communicated to thousands. Gatherings of all kinds were postponed and canceled, while institutional policies had to be reconsidered. Through it all, our colleges and universities made it happen. Classes were convened virtually, coursework was completed, students advanced and many, now, have graduated.

But what happened in the classroom was just the beginning. Today, our colleges are not only expansive institutions of higher learning, but also significant providers of an array of social services and basic needs for students and their families. Institutions organized to increase access via telehealth services, supporting students with food insecurity through drive-thru food pantries, and continuing to pay student workers through the end of the academic term. They deployed emergency funds to cover rent, groceries, lost income, and costs associated with shifting to virtual learning, while giving out thousands of laptops, tablets and WiFi hotspots to support student connectivity and access to course materials.

Read some of the IL Higher Ed Matters stories below:​​​​​​​​​​​​

 
Amid this pandemic, we've also seen how the work and responsibility of higher education extends beyond the confines of the campus into their neighboring communities, where they provide solutions and create knowledge broadly. Advanced manufacturing equipment and 3-D printers were used across colleges and universities to produce personal protective equipment for healthcare providers. Supplies and meals were donated. New programs were launched to train Illinoisans for jobs that would be created to enable citizen movement after lockdown and prior to widespread vaccination. Thousands of faculty and alumni from dozens of institutions are working in medicine, immunology, epidemiology, infectious disease, public health policy, and other disciplines in hospitals, clinics, labs, and statehouses across the country. They are architects transforming spaces for public health purposes. They are scholars, contributing research that helps identify the many ways in which we can move from lockdown and shutdown to recovery and a more equitable society.

Illinois' colleges and universities will be at the forefront of that recovery. They will be the places to which Illinois' students return, and where the state's workforce turns to reskill or upskill for the jobs of tomorrow. They will be where breakthroughs are produced that will improve the lives of citizens. They will be places of investment, where science, innovation, and imagination will be used to limit the impacts of the next pandemic. Illinois' economic recovery depends on a healthy, thriving, and diverse network of colleges and universities that is accessible and affordable to all, and that extends from Rockford to Carbondale and from Quincy to Chicago. #ILHigherEdMatters

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