The Partnership for College Completion (PCC) is a regional nonprofit organization focused on increasing college completion rates in and around Chicago, particularly for low-income, first generation and other underrepresented college students. PCC seeks to champion policies and practices that ensure all students in and around Chicago and across...
The Partnership for College Completion (PCC) is a regional nonprofit organization focused on increasing college completion rates in and around Chicago, particularly for low-income, first generation and other underrepresented college students. PCC seeks to champion policies and practices that ensure all students in and around Chicago and across the state graduate from college.
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Member Spotlight: Meet Eunice Heredia, City Colleges of Chicago

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1. What is your current role/title?
I have been working with City Colleges of Chicago for six years. My current role is Assistant Director of Financial Aid. Before working at City Colleges of Chicago, I worked with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC). I have a total of eight years working with state and federal aid. Where did you earn your degree(s)? Types of degree(s) and field(s) of study? I received my Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Lake Forest College, and I am working towards obtaining my Master's degree in Public Policy from DePaul University and will be graduating before the end of the year.


2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?
I received my Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Lake Forest College, and I am working towards obtaining my Master's degree in Public Policy from DePaul University and will be graduating before the end of the year.


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

My experience at Lake Forest College was phenomenal due to having faculty and staff supporting me throughout my undergraduate career. I was part of the Lake Forest Chicago Scholar program, which allowed me to focus on my studies and provided me with the support I needed throughout my four years. Currently, at DePaul University, the faculty is very open to meeting with students, which I have taken advantage of meeting with each of my professors. They also do an amazing job in promoting events and services. I have grown fondly of their Writing Center.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?
What excites me about the equity work at my institution is providing support to our student's needs and learning what we can change to assist them better. What also excites me is creating new ways to make education accessible for everyone.


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

I have presented topics about Financial Aid and Financial Literacy in both Spanish and English in my role. I have also provided resources and guides on accessing Financial Aid, whether students are applying for the Alternative Application or FAFSA application. In addition, we are looking into having more events in multiple languages for our parents and students. Listening to the needs of students is my main priority when it comes to assisting students.

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Equity in Practice Spotlight: “Complete to Compete Strategy” at Elgin Community College

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Briefly describe a strategy in your Equity Plan that you have implemented. Include a brief description of how this strategy was chosen.
Elgin Community College (ECC) wanted to help "near completer" students for whom predicative analytics showed were in danger of not completing their degrees, despite significant progress. The top reason students were dropping out after earning significant credit hours was due to financial obligations. The Complete to Compete scholarship was created to provide financial support to students above and beyond any funds that they already receive through federal, state, and/or institutional financial aid in order to encourage students to enroll in more credit hours than they otherwise would have been able to without the additional funding and to set a goal of completing their degree by the end of the current academic year. This strategy was chosen because it was poised to implement quickly, was directly related to completion, and tied to financial need.


Articulate the intended outcomes, leading indicators and KPIs.
The intended outcome was for "near completer" students to persist or reenroll and complete their degree/transfer within one year. Enrollment, credit accumulation, academic performance, and completion rates were tracked. We wanted to show demonstrable improvements attributable to this intervention so a comparison group of like students, who did not receive the scholarship, was also tracked.

Over the course of the 2020-2021 academic year, the students receiving the Complete to Compete scholarship enrolled in approximately the same number of total credit hours, on average, as the comparison group (16.7 hours versus 16.1, respectively), but had a higher completion ratio (90% versus 79%, respectively) and, thus, a greater number of earned credit hours (15.0 versus 12.6, respectively), and, ultimately, a much greater proportion of students graduating with their Associate's degree by the end of the year (73% of scholarship students, compared to 47% of comparison group, but the initial metric was to complete within the 2020-2021 academic year).


How has your institution applied an equity focus/lens to this strategy? What stakeholders were engaged? What data is informing your strategy?

The key stakeholders were ECC's Institutional Advancement and Student Services offices; the College's active Foundation Board; the Institutional Advancement executive director; and Institutional Research managing director.

As part of the process of generating the applicant pool for eligible students, the ECC Institutional Research office generated a statistical predictive model based on each student's demographic profile, past academic performance and socio-economic status. This model created a "predicted likelihood of graduating within 1 year" score for each student in the applicant pool. This score was then used as one component of the applicant scoring process to determine awardees. For this particular scoring category, students with lower predicted likelihood of graduating scores are given greater preference in the scholarship application scoring. The reasoning behind this is that preference for the award, in alignment with the wishes of the ECC Foundation Board, would go to students who would theoretically be helped the most by the additional funding.


For more information on this strategy at Elgin Community College, contact:
David Davin, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement & ECC Foundation, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
David Rudden, Managing Director of Institutional Research, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Deborah Orth, Project Assessment Administrator, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Special from the PCC Higher Ed Policy Quarterly: An Interview with State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, PhD

Special from the PCC Higher Ed Policy Quarterly: An Interview with State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, PhD
Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas

Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas, former Associate Vice President of Policy for the Erikson Institute, an academic institution focused on child development where she led the Institute's efforts to create policies supporting young children, families, and communities, currently serves on the Education, Health, Higher Education, Human Rights and Revenue committees. Her experience serving in local and state government has given her an understanding of government at all levels.

For the third issue of the PCC Higher Ed Policy Quarterly newsletter, Senator Pacione-Zayas discusses the importance of equitable opportunities in higher education in Illinois and her goals and vision for her district and the next legislative session.

1. What do you believe access in higher education looks like, particularly for our Black, Latinx, and low-income students?

If this question is referring to current access, I would describe it as inadequate and limited. It is evident that the system was designed for a student profile that assumes a level of wealth, affluence, prior knowledge, and proximity to the white, middle class, able-bodied status quo. As a result, many structural barriers are experienced by Black, Latinx students along with those from households with limited economic resources. Barriers are not just financial, but are also social and cultural.

If this question is about a future state, significantly greater access to higher education is an imperative. While it is not the only path to a life that has greater access to opportunity, economic stability, it is one of several pathways that contribute to a society that is thriving and sustainable. Indicators of greater access include:

  • Subsidizing tuition and fees beyond disparate programs that require significant coordination of blending and braiding funding to take full advantage. We know that financial barriers are a clear front runner for preventing degree completion and we can do better with streamlining funding streams, public and private, to cover the full cost of higher education.
  • Streamlining pathways towards completion including greater access and support to dual enrollment at the high school level, the provision of four-year degrees where we have critical shortages and lower earning potential at community colleges, and redesigning programs of study to meet non-traditional student profiles (i.e., parents, students who work full-time, students experiencing housing instability, etc.).


2. What kind of progress would you like to see in your district in the higher education space?

I would like to see Northeastern's El Centro utilized to its full capacity. Due to the pandemic and general decline in enrollment, the vision of El Centro as a full-service satellite of Northeastern located in the heart of the district has yet to be realized. Additionally, with respect to streamlining pathways towards completion, I would like to see higher education programs housed in non-traditional spaces and increased offerings in cohort models. Research shows that when you bring programs to students and facilitate deeper relationships among peers and faculty, higher completion rates follow.

3. How can we make college more affordable, and how do you think this affordability might impact your district?

Affordability is a significant barrier for students in general and particularly in the district I represent since the median household income is $51,800 annually and even less for Latinx households with a median of $44,400 and Black households at $38,300 annually.

Affordability can be achieved when dual enrollment programs expand so that high school students can graduate from high school with some college credits up through an associate degree thus reducing the total cost of a bachelor's degree. Furthermore, if we explore and implement new revenue streams such as the "Wealth Tax" proposed by Senators Warren and Sanders, it can allow for greater allocation of funds at the federal level to leverage state investments and the cost of college could be fully subsidized.

4. As you plan for the new legislative session, what are your highest hopes for Illinois higher education? What are your greatest fears?

My greatest hope is that we are successful in laying the appropriate groundwork for the effective implementation of HB2878 which establishes an Early Childhood Higher Education Consortium. The Consortium will join all public four- and two-year institutions in universal agreements and roll out comprehensive supports by region to upskill the incumbent early childhood workforce. If done with fidelity, it could be a model for other sectors where we could benefit from greater collaboration, flexibility, and support in the high education ecosystem.

One fear I continue to have is complacency with and commitment to maintaining the status quo. We have mounting evidence that the traditional brick and mortar institution does not serve all students and is grossly dated. Furthermore, the system is designed to produce the exact outcomes we witness today and without deliberate dismantling of limiting policy and harmful practice, we cannot be surprised if nothing changes. Having worked in institutions of higher education, I have witnessed the notion of tradition and exclusivity undermine innovation and moral imperatives. We must acknowledge that the college student of today is radically different from the college student of just a decade ago. The evolution of technology and the widening disparities among different demographic groups call for a doubling down on transforming the existing system if it is to survive and live up to the ideal of supporting the preparation of the next generation to lead and thrive.

5. As we continue to celebrate the passing of SB815, what do you hope for the Commission to achieve?

To be populated by independent thinkers and doers who will challenge the status quo, be disciplined in engaging diverse stakeholders throughout the process, and to adopt the seventh-generation principle from Native American tradition, that attempts to look ahead seven generations when engaging in decision making. Further, I hope for the explicit centering of racial equity and anti-racism to guide the process so that the result is a funding mechanism that can attempt to remedy the gross inequities experienced by Black, Latinx and other lived experiences harmed and derailed by the status quo system.

6. With our students moving back to in-person learning, what needs to happen in Illinois to address both the short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic on our students?

Radical support, grace and flexibility need to be in place as students transition back to in-person learning. Of course, safety mitigations should be the bare minimum to eradicate transmission of a virus that spreads quickly in congregate settings. In addition, mental health services will need to be ramped up as students come to grips with what they have witnessed and continue to manage throughout not just the pandemic, but also the racial reckoning with the murder of George Floyd. Housing and economic instability are likely to be more prevalent given the impact of the pandemic on many families and communities of color and therefore wrap around supports will be more important than ever.

7. What more would you like to achieve in the 2022 legislative session? What else is important to push an equitable agenda in higher education?

An honest dialogue where we can precisely name the root causes of our challenges in high education so we can deliberately design solutions with the end goals of equitable access and radical inclusion. This starting point is critical for us to effectively address the chronic issues in the field in hopes that we can witness greater achievement and healthier experiences in higher education for individuals who have historically been marginalized including students, faculty and academic professionals.

8. Is there anything else you would like to add?

As a student of Paulo Freire, I believe deeply in his assertion that education is an act of liberation and freedom. Anything short is just reproducing the social hierarchy and institutional violence that have plagued the system. The imperative is to build critical consciousness among students that facilitates social responsibility and skills that benefit collective advancement. If we can agree on that common goal, we can be rest assured that Illinois will have a promising future. 

Read more from our September PCC Policy quarterly now.

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PCC Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Vol. 1 Issue 3—September 22, 2021

PCC Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Vol. 1 Issue 3—September 22, 2021

Letter from the Executive Director

When we look to solutions to address the urgency of reforming inequitable structures in higher education, 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.

—Read Lisa Castillo Richmond's full letter here

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Snapshot of Federal Higher Education Policy

Department of Ed Cancels Billions in Loans
The U.S. Department of Education announced that it will automatically discharge outstanding student loans for borrowers with a "total and permanent disability (TPD)," as identified through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Beginning in this month, over 323,000 borrowers are expected to benefit, which totals to around $5.8 billion in debt erased. Additionally, and related to TPD, the Department will no longer require borrowers to report their earnings, the failure of which results in reinstated loans.

On August 26 the Department of Ed announced that it will also forgive the loans of 115,000 borrowers who formerly attended ITT Technical Institute (ITT). The Education Department has approved $1.1 billion in relief, contributing to the new total of $9.5 billion discharged loans since the commencement of the Biden administration. This action discharges the loans for borrowers who attended ITT during a period in which the institution misrepresented its financial health and lured students into taking out unaffordable private loans. Students' loans are discharged if the school's closure prevented them from completing their degrees, or if borrowers withdrew their enrollment in the school within a few months of its closing.

Student borrower protection advocates offer praise for these moves, as hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers have been trapped in a cycle of unnecessary debt. Read more.

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Snapshot of Illinois Higher Education Policy

PCC Hosts First Two Meetings on Higher Ed Accountability in Illinois
The Partnership brought together a group of higher education stakeholders in July and August to kick off a series of meetings focused on improving accountability in Illinois higher education. Advocacy non-profits, national experts, and representatives from unions and state agencies weighed in on how the group might work together to improve student borrower protections, for-profit college accountability, and transparency. The group will continue to meet monthly to share knowledge and potential policy priorities for the upcoming year. If you or someone you know would like to know more about this group, please contact PCC Policy Manager Mike Abrahamson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Governor Pritzker of Illinois Signs Legislative Package to Advance Equity in Higher Education
On August 23, Governor Pritzker signed SB 815, a crucial first step toward equitable funding for Illinois. PCC and its partners worked with the Illinois Black Caucus and other equity-minded policymakers on the legislation, which will bring together a commission to design a fair, equitable, stable, and adequate funding model to begin reversing the damage to communities impacted by historic and systemic racism.

The Governor also signed SB 1085, HB 3359, and HB 2746 – all of which contribute to advancing equity and expanding opportunities in Illinois' institutions of higher education. SB 1085 creates the Educational Services Consumer Protection Act, and protects students and families from predatory practices from for-profit college-planning providers by preventing them from charging enrollment or maintenance fees, for example. HB 3359 allows a student's personal support worker (PSW) to attend classes with the student at no additional cost. HB 2746, or the Know Before You Owe Private Education Loan Act, requires lenders to obtain from institutions of higher education the cost, enrollment status, and financial assistance available to potential student borrowers, to provide students with the information necessary to make informed decisions about taking on student loan debt.

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States Policy We're Watching

New Mexico Higher Education Department to Review Funding Formula
The New Mexico Higher Education Department (NMHED) announced that it will establish a working group to evaluate the state's higher education funding formula. The current outcomes-based formula considers various factors, including the number of STEM degrees awarded and the number of degrees awarded to students from at-risk populations. The working group will be facilitated by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) and is tasked to ensure that state resources directly support students and New Mexico's current workforce needs.

California Bill Introduces a Freeze to UC Tuition
Last month, the University of California Board of Regents voted to increase tuition each year for incoming students, a tuition plan that would begin in the fall of 2022. In California, Assemblywoman Suzette Martinez Valladares introduced bill ACA 10 that freezes tuition and mandatory fees at University of California campuses until the 2027-2028 academic year. Valladares's bill, additionally, would require increases in tuition and fees to be approved by the board before the increase is to be applied.

Massachusetts Board of Higher Education Met to Discuss Undergraduate Experience with a Racial Equity Focus
In 2018, the Board of Higher Education developed a 10-year plan focused on equity. On August 23, the Assistant Commission at the Department of Higher Education, Elena Quiroz-Livanis, provided a brief on the 2024-2034 racial equity strategic plan. They are analyzing data by race at the institution and systems levels, with the plan of launching a wide-ranging survey to students, staff, and faculty across public institutions of higher education this fall.

Wisconsin's Urge to Create a Task Force to Examine Higher Education
The University of Wisconsin System President, Tommy Thompson, urged the Legislature to create a task force with the goal of examining higher education in Wisconsin. During an interview, Thompson spoke to WisPolitics.com President Jeff Mayers regarding the UW System, which he believes to be falling behind other states. However, Thompson failed to provide in the interview any specific goals.

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Get to Know Illinois' Leaders—An Interview with State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, PhD

Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas, former Associate Vice President of Policy for the Erikson Institute, an academic institution focused on child development where she led the Institute's efforts to create policies supporting young children, families, and communities, currently serves on the Education, Health, Higher Education, Human Rights and Revenue committees. Her experience serving in local and state government has given her an understanding of government at all levels,

In this newsletter, Senator Pacione-Zayas discusses the importance of equitable opportunities in higher education in Illinois and her goals and vision for her district and for the next legislative session. Read the full interview here

Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) Happenings

2021 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit

ILEA will be hosting its 5th summit convening November 3-5, 2021. The theme for the virtual summit is "Lifting Voices for Racial Equity with Intentional Structures." Summit highlights include: keynote addresses by Dr. José Luis Cruz Rivera, President of Northern Arizona University (NAU) and Dr. Theodorea Regina Berry, Vice Provost of Student Learning and Academic Success and Dean, College of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Central Florida (UCF). If you are interested in joining us for this event, please contact Jonathan Lopez, Communications and Operations Manager, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Equity Circles for Change
This year we are launching Equity Circles for Change (EC4C), ILEA's version of a community of practice. We are inviting participants to share thoughts, research, data as well as insights into the ways they are breaking down systemic barriers, creating cultural change and implementing equity strategies on their campuses. This year's topics are: Creating Equitable Outcomes at Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion--A Look at Hiring Practices. These dialogue sessions will be co-led by ILEA Equity Program Managers and members from ILEA institutions, meet four times throughout the academic year and 1.5 hours in length. For questions about EC4C, contact Paula Hanley, Equity Program Manager, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Equity Academy for Presidents and Cabinets
This fall, the PCC will be inviting a second group of leaders from ILEA institutions to participate in the Equity Academy for Presidents and Cabinets (EAPC). Participants will have the opportunity to learn how to institutionalize equity practices at scale, create a shared sense of urgency, build data capacity and communicate equity targets and outcomes. The PCC will also be inviting last year's EAPC participants to join for a second year of leadership discussions. Topics will focus on strategic finance, external communications, and assessing progress of equity goals. For more information, contact Joe Saucedo, Equity Program Manager, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Building Capacity in the State to Support Implementation of the Developmental Education Reform Act
Stay tuned for an exciting upcoming announcement from PCC about a significant new partnership that will launch in Illinois this fall.

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Upcoming Events

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The Partnership celebrates the signing into law of SB 815 by Governor Pritzker, which will establish a commission that will focus on creating an equity-based funding model for public universities in the state of Illinois. SB 815 brings us one step closer to securing a more equitable, adequate and stable funding model for Illinois' higher education. For more information on how you can help us advocate for equity in how Illinois funds its public universities, contact PCC Community Engagement Manager Sonianne Lozada at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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PCC Celebrates Five Years & Counting

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When the organization's first staff— then, its founding executive director Dr. Kyle Westbrook and its managing director, Lisa Castillo Richmond, traveled the state to meet with higher education leaders and legislators, they encountered many small pockets of reform work happening as well as some very promising larger initiatives. However, focused attention to these issues was missing. It was a dilemma just calling out to be addressed by an organization dedicated to higher education equity and excellence at a time when college completion rates were stagnating and disparities in attainment were persistent, and even widening, across racial and socioeconomic lines. Enter the Partnership for College Completion (PCC), which in collaboration with its many partners, has been able to set in motion a transformation of Illinois' higher education system through strategic practice and public policy efforts.

In the past five years, the landscape in which PCC has been doing its work has indeed been transforming. There has been a noticeable shift in the language. There is more discussion about equity and completion, and that conversation is far more nuanced. The many partners that have joined the Partnership in this work have demonstrated a deep commitment to equity, often at the risk of exposure to themselves or their institutions. This has only inspired the Partnership to lean even more deeply into this work for an equitable, affordable, and more accessible higher education system for Illinois, while continuing to raise the ambition of its sights and take bolder and more innovative steps to that end.

This month, the Partnership is pleased to share where the organization has been and what it's been able to accomplish in the first five years with "PCC 5 Years & Counting," a multimedia digital event highlighting organizational achievements and featuring a special video conversation with PCC's three founding members, Westbrook, Castillo Richmond—the Partnership's new Executive Director, and Jonathan Lopez, PCC's Communications and Operations Manager. There is much to celebrate and none of it would have been possible without generous support from PCC's funders, a supportive board of directors, key institutional, legislative, and organizational partners critical to making PCC's vision for equity actionable, and PCC's small but mighty team of talented staff. Still, there is much work ahead. The steps toward achieving an equitable future for Illinois through transformation of its higher education system are fewer than they were in 2016, but entrenched interests that fail to prioritize students persist, and they are formidable.

As public discourse about racial justice continues to be waged from two sides – from the one, opposing the discussion and teaching of our institutionalized racism and legacy of oppression, and from the other where PCC and its partner press toward justice with a focus on solutions and improving the experience and outcomes of underrepresented college students across the state.

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Joint Statement in Support of SB815 Commission

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As members of the Illinois Higher Education Network, we applaud Governor Pritzker in signing SB815 into law yesterday. With SB815's creation of a Commission on Equitable Public University Funding, Illinois is a step closer toward not only having a funding model that considers what it takes to ensure institutions have the resources to adequately support students but one that targets resources to colleges disproportionately serving students from low-income households and students of color, and incentivizes better-resourced universities to ensure their student body reflects the population of Illinois.

Years of disinvestment, racial and socioeconomic disparities in access, and inequitable distribution of state funds have forced Illinois' Black and Latinx students and students from low-income households to pay some of the highest college costs in the nation. The state's public universities that serve greater percentages of students from low-income households and students of color are also its most financially vulnerable. Although these institutions need more funding to support students, they instead receive a fraction of the state's annual appropriations. 

The commission created by SB815 will research, model, and ultimately recommend specific criteria and approaches for an equity-based higher education funding model for Illinois' public universities. Governor Pritzker's signing of SB815 yesterday starts the process of bringing equity and stability to higher education funding.

An adequate, equitable, and stable higher education funding model is critical to ensuring every university can provide adequate academic, financial, and social-emotional support to improve college access, persistence, and success. Such a funding model is also critical to rebuilding a prosperous and equitable future for Illinois.

We thank Governor Pritzker for signing SB815 into law and continue to applaud Leader Kimberly Lightford and Representative Carol Ammons for their steadfast leadership on this bill.

Working together to create a more equitable higher education system, we are eager to support the Commission's work and the much-needed transformation it is designed to spur.


Advance Illinois

Partnership for College Completion

Women Employed

Young Invincibles

Illinois Higher Education Network 


8/24/21

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PCC Board: Welcome to the Partnership's Next Executive Director, Lisa Castillo Richmond

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Dear PCC Partners and Friends:

We are pleased to announce that Lisa Castillo Richmond, the Partnership for College Completion's (PCC) current managing director, will serve as the next executive director of the organization, effective August 1, 2021. The appointment comes following weeks of engagement by the Board with external stakeholders, including college and university presidents, public officials, students, and investors as well as members of PCC's staff, to understand the future needs of the organization as it enters its next phase of development.

Lisa arrives at the role bringing years of experience in higher education access and success, systemic reform, and a deep commitment to racial and socioeconomic equity. With a wealth of experience managing nonprofit education organizations and initiatives, local and national program teams, and fundraising and development efforts, Lisa's work has focused on organizations in launch and growth phases, as well as work with PK-12 systems, colleges and universities, and government agencies.

Prior to joining PCC to help launch the organization in 2016, Lisa served for four years as the Executive Director of Graduate NYC (GNYC), a collaborative college readiness and completion initiative of the City University of New York, the NYC Department of Education, and the NYC Mayor's Office. She also previously served as the Vice President of Program for the national office of the "I Have A Dream" Foundation and as Senior Vice President of Program for Junior Achievement of New York.

Under Lisa's leadership as PCC's Managing Director, the organization developed its signature technical support effort, the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative (ILEA). Launched in 2018, ILEA today provides support to 26 colleges and universities across the state that are working to eliminate racial and socioeconomic disparities in degree completion on their campuses.

A native Illinoisan and the first in her family to attend college, Lisa holds an M.A. in Education & Social Policy from New York University and is currently a doctoral student at Loyola University Chicago.

The Board congratulates and welcomes Lisa in this new appointment and extends its deep gratitude to Dr. Kyle Westbrook, PCC's Founding Executive Director. Instrumental in building the organization into a powerful voice for equity in the state of Illinois, Kyle guided the organization in reshaping the narrative of Illinois higher education to focus on what is possible for all our students, their families, and our communities. As he moves into the next phase of his career, the Board sends its warmest well wishes.


Beth Swanson 
Board Chair

Liz Thompson
Board Co-Chair

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'Nationally, Illinois Is An Outlier': Illinois Looks To Make Higher-Ed Funding More Equitable

'Nationally, Illinois Is An Outlier': Illinois Looks To Make Higher-Ed Funding More Equitable

June 21, 2021

By PETER MEDLIN - WNIJ and WNIU

Illinois K-12 education Evidence-Based Funding takes 27 key elements like the number of nurses or low-income students a school has and calculates an adequacy target for each district. Higher-ed institutions in the state have no defined funding formula.

A recently passed bill looks to completely change how higher education is funded, just like what lawmakers did with K-12 schools four years ago. Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion, says this new equity-focused mindset is long overdue.

"We have institutions in our state who are serving significantly high percentages of low-income students, students of color that, frankly, are being inadequately funded to serve the interests of those students."

That could start to change with the passage of Senate Bill 815. It creates a commission to research equity-based funding strategies and return to the legislature with a report.

The State Board of Higher Education also just released a strategic plan calling for a new funding formula to close graduation and retention gaps among low-income and students of color.

"I think it's important to first realize that, nationally, Illinois is an outlier in this regard," said Westbrook, who gave testimony during a committee hearing for the plan. "The vast majority of other states have a true formula for how they appropriate their state funds every year. And Illinois is one of only a few that does not have a defined formula."

Westbrook says the idea is to look at criteria like the number of low-income students and how much a university relies on state appropriations to calculate an "adequacy target."

For example, some schools like Chicago State serve the highest percentages of Pell-eligible and students of color but depend more heavily on state aid than the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

When those schools need to provide more services for students but don't have the funding, tuition goes up.

The newly-passed proposal also asks institutions to establish equity plans. Westbrook says many Illinois schools have significant graduation and retention gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines. These plans will look at what each school can do to help close them.

He says universities can make changes by removing standardized testing requirements from scholarships and stopping financial holds on student accounts. Every year, tens of thousands of Illinois students miss out on MAP Grant financial aid because the first-come-first-serve money runs out. Westbrook also says the state needs to commit to consistent funding for MAP Grants, so that doesn't happen.


Source: https://www.northernpublicradio.org/wnij-news/2021-06-21/illinois-looks-to-make-higher-ed-funding-more-equitable


This report was also featured on POLITICO, Illinois Playbook, Higher Ed section

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PCC Executive Director Letter June Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Newsletter

PCC Executive Director Letter June Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Newsletter
Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D.

Perhaps James Baldwin's most-quoted saying is that "not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced." Explicit in this quote is a call for courage. Implicit in this quote, given the context within which it was written, the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, is a call upon the nation to reckon with its messy, violent, and uneven past and finally wrestle with what scholar Eddie Glaud, Jr. aptly calls, the "Value Gap" or the ways in which our country values white lives above all others. This legislative session, through the leadership of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, our state took an initial step towards facing the inequities in higher education funding and then changing them. The passage of Senate Bill 815, thanks to the tenacity, energy, courage, and collaborative spirit of Senator Kimberly Lightford, and Representative Carol Ammons, finally allows conversations about public finance of our state's public universities to happen in the open and, as importantly, will produce recommendations for how our state should center equity in the way our state's higher education system is funded.

Similarly, through the leadership of Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus and Senator Karina Villa, and House Representative Maura Hirschauer, Illinois took a major step towards ensuring that our states undocumented students are well supported on their respective campuses through the passage of House Bill 3438 requiring public universities and community colleges to designate a undocumented resource liason, and encouraging campuses to create undocumented resource centers on campus.

Taken together, these two pieces of legislation mark important steps towards facing and changing the things that need to be changed in our state's public colleges and universities. There is still much more work ahead, especially with regards to increasing the overall appropriations to our state's higher education system, but we are heartened by the steps that our legislature is taking to reverse the decades-long, downward trajectory of higher education in Illinois. Like with the passage of SB 815 and HB 3438, our collective voices; students, higher education leaders, advocates, community organizations, and others will need to boldly and aggressively make the case that investment in our state's higher education system and its students is as high a public priority as investments in early childhood and K-12 education. Indeed, only when we begin to see our state's education system as one, can we as a state truly build the kind of education system that will prepare our students to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

In Partnership, 
Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D.
Read PCC's latest Policy Quarterly today.


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Special from the PCC Higher Education Policy Quarterly: An Interview with State Rep. Katie Stuart

Special from the PCC Higher Education Policy Quarterly: An Interview with State Rep. Katie Stuart
IL State Rep. Katie Stuart

Representative Katie Stuart of Edwardsville, a former elementary and high school math teacher and Southern Illinois University math instructor, was appointed this year to the role of chair of the House Higher Education Committee, taking over for Leader Carol Ammons. Representative Stuart, a Democrat who has served in the legislature since 2017, represents an area that includes Southern Illinois University, and was recently appointed commissioner for the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, and chairs the bipartisan Higher Education Working Group. Some of Representative Stuart's higher education priorities have included securing protections for student borrowers, working toward fair funding and affordability for Illinois universities, and increasing opportunities for students and resources for university employees.

In this second quarterly newsletter, Representative Stuart reflects on the recent legislative session and shares her hopes and goals for higher education in the years ahead.

  1. As you reflect on your first regular session as Chair of House Higher Education, what are you most proud of? What is one lesson you're taking with you?

    I believe we had a very successful session in the House Higher Education Committee. We considered and passed important legislation that focused on the needs of all stakeholders; students, faculty, and administration. We sent forth a measure to support adjunct faculty, who often struggle to cobble together the equivalent of full-time employment and can be subject to last minute drops of courses from their schedules. We also put forth a measure to bring access to those in the early childhood education field who need further degrees or credentials. We made adjustments to admissions requirements to more adequately reflect the high school curriculum and to be responsive to the workforce needs of our business community. The lesson I take with me at all times, for all levels of education is to think about the question, "What's best for the students?" I find that this focus helps craft policy that is best for all involved.

  2. Looking ahead, what are your highest hopes for Illinois higher education? What are your greatest fears?

    My hopes would be to create a system of higher education in Illinois that is a model for others to follow. HB2878 which creates a consortium model between the community colleges and the four-year institutions to meet that early childhood education need I spoke about earlier is really a model for responding to future workforce needs. It is important that we have articulation between all levels, so that we are approaching education as a full-scale, birth through adulthood, investment in our future. My fear would be to have an executive branch or legislative leadership that didn't value public higher education and would work to actually dismantle our institutions. Luckily, we have a current governor who is a champion of education and legislative leaders who are as well.

  3. You currently chair the bipartisan Higher Education Working Group (HEWG) and have mentioned in committee meetings that the group is concerned with increasing enrollment at our state institutions and addressing student debt. Are there other priority areas the HEWG would like to address? What do you hope to see the HEWG accomplish in the year ahead?

    The HEWG intends to continue the work we started years ago to craft a funding formula for higher education akin to the groundbreaking work that was done in crafting the evidence based funding model for K-12 education in our state. The general assembly passed legislation that will create a commission to work towards this goal, and the working group will also continue the parallel work of looking at best practices while keeping a balance that focuses both on equity and the unique mission and student population of each of our institutions of public higher education in the state.

  4. The Board of Higher Education, Illinois Community College Board, and Illinois Student Assistance Commission have been developing a 10-year strategic plan for higher education, which should be approved right around the time this newsletter goes out. The strategic planning process was designed to address systemic inequities that have affected Illinois' postsecondary outcomes, the needs of the state's economy, and postsecondary attainment. What do you think is the legislature's role in supporting implementation of this plan? How should the system and institutions themselves be held accountable to implementing their ambitious plan and meeting goals?

    The legislature needs to be an active participant in the strategic plan implementation. Our appropriations decisions will impact the ability of the board and others to successfully implement the plan. It will be our responsibility to determine how well institutions are meeting the ambitious goals and to determine what type of support is necessary to have all our institutions stay successful.

  5. The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus had a historic lame duck session, passing monumental legislation aimed at dismantling inequitable policies and practices in Illinois' largest systems – including in higher education. It was a giant step forward, but there is still a lot of work to do to advance racial equity in Illinois' higher education system. How do you envision this work moving forward? What is the greatest opportunity and what do you think will be the greatest barrier to advancing equity in higher education?

    The Black Caucus achieved so much in the historic lame duck session, not limited to education. As we have gone through this session, we have revisited the four pillars and the caucus has guided improvements and changes to what was put in place in January. We cannot sit back and treat this as a job accomplished - there is still work to be done. There is a need to reckon with the implicit biases we all carry, and to make sure we understand how that has impacted policy in the past.

  6. Prior to your election to the Illinois House and tenure on the Higher Education committee, you were a math professor at SIU-E, so you have a unique perspective on higher education. What advice do you have for Illinois colleges and universities and current/prospective students navigating higher education during these unique and challenging times?

    I do agree that my previous position as a math instructor at the beautiful Edwardsville campus of SIU has given me perspective, and I am thankful that Speaker Welch recognized this and asked me to head up the house committee. I have seen students struggle to balance their course work while working 30-40 hours a week at pretty strenuous jobs just to keep up with the cost of tuition. I have also seen the proportion of "non-traditional" students continue to grow, as more adults realize the need to attain a degree in order to advance in their careers, or to start a career. I think our institutions are already cognizant of the fact that it is getting harder and harder to define the average college student - and I think that is wonderful. I would hope they are putting forth ways to meet students where they are. My advice to students (and many times parents as well) is to realize that the folks in higher education are there because they want to see students succeed. There are lots of programs in place to support students, from food pantries to extra tutoring, but you won't always know about them unless you ask. So when you find that kind professor who you feel a strong rapport with, don't hesitate to ask them to direct you to supportive services. If they don't know, they will want to find out because there will always be students in the future with similar needs.

  7. Is there anything else that you'd like to say to the higher education stakeholders in Illinois who are reading this newsletter?

    I would like to just applaud the schools for embracing the plan to all use the Common Application, to make the process of applying for all our Illinois institutions easier. We may find some students from Cairo who never would have thought about attending Northern Illinois University had they not been able to easily apply while they were applying to other schools. It is my hope that our talented and diverse high school seniors will see all the opportunities available right here in our geographically diverse state, and make a decision to keep their skills and talents in Illinois as they pursue their education and as they put down roots for their future as well. 

Read PCC's June Policy Quarterly Newsletter today.

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Special from the PCC Higher Education Policy Quarterly: Snapshot of Federal Higher Ed Policy

Special from the PCC Higher Education Policy Quarterly: Snapshot of Federal Higher Ed Policy

Department of Ed Cancels Billions in Loans
The U.S. Department of Education announced that it will automatically discharge outstanding student loans for borrowers with a "total and permanent disability (TPD)," as identified through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Beginning in September 2021, over 323,000 borrowers are expected to benefit, which totals to around $5.8 billion in debt erased. Additionally, and related to TPD, the Department will no longer require borrowers to report their earnings, the failure of which results in reinstated loans.

On August 26 the Department of Ed announced that it will also forgive the loans of 115,000 borrowers who formerly attended ITT Technical Institute (ITT). The Education Department has approved $1.1 billion in relief, contributing to the new total of $9.5 billion discharged loans since the commencement of the Biden administration. This action discharges the loans for borrowers who attended ITT during a period in which the institution misrepresented its financial health and lured students into taking out unaffordable private loans. Students' loans are discharged if the school's closure prevented them from completing their degrees, or if borrowers withdrew their enrollment in the school within a few months of its closing.

Student borrower protection advocates offer praise for these moves, as hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers have been trapped in a cycle of unnecessary debt.

$1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment Bill
On August 10, the Senate voted 69-30 to approve a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which includes billions of dollars for higher education. While the package includes historic investments in physical infrastructure, primarily for roads and bridges, it also offers billions in monetary support for internet, broadband, and overall digital access for students. The bill must still pass through the House of Representatives, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has committed to passing by September 27, 2021.

$3.5 Trillion Budget Blueprint
On August 9, Senate Democrats released a budget resolution, providing a framework for spending $3.5 trillion. In the early morning of August 11, the Senate passed the budget proposal, which, according to the framework, includes the following higher education priorities: tuition-free community college and investments in HBCUs. On August 24, the House of Representatives approved the budget blueprint with a 220-212 vote, a narrow victory with votes falling along party lines.

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PCC Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Vol. 1 Issue 2—June 8, 2021

PCC Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Vol. 1 Issue 2—June 8, 2021

Letter from the Executive Director

Taken together, SB 815 and HB 3438 mark important steps towards facing and changing the things that need to be changed in our state's public colleges and universities. There is still much more work ahead, especially with regards to increasing the overall appropriations to our state's higher education system, but we are heartened by the steps that our legislature is taking to reverse the decades-long, downward trajectory of higher education in Illinois. Read More.

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Snapshot of Federal Higher Education Policy

Biden Administration Makes Undocumented Students Eligible for Emergency Aid
President Biden reversed a Trump administration rule that barred undocumented students from eligibility for federal emergency grant aid that has come as part of the previous two stimulus packages. On May 11, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced that the emergency grant funding from the American Rescue Plan would be available to undocumented, DACA, and international students, with students with greater need still prioritized.

American Families Plan Gives Hope for Higher Ed Resources, but Faces Opposition
The Biden administration announced the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, and a significant part of this investment would go toward funding higher ed. The plan would provide $109 billion for two years of free community college, $85 billion increased investment in Pell grants, and $46 billion for HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs. It also would give $62 billion for evidence-based strategies to increase retention and completion at community colleges, which could fund work underway at Illinois colleges, like implementation of the Developmental Education Reform Act (DERA). However, these programs are largely planned through matching grants, and some Republican-led states have already started framing this as federal government overreach.
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Snapshot of Illinois Higher Education Policy

Spring 2021 Session Recap
The 102nd first regular session wrapped up on May 31 with lawmakers passing significant legislation on affordable housing and ethics reform, creating new district maps, and passing a comprehensive state budget. Hundreds of bills related to higher education were introduced in the Illinois General Assembly this spring, addressing issues ranging from student borrower protections to system consolidation. Here we highlight a few higher education bills supported by the Partnership for College Completion (PCC) and heading to the Governor's Office for signature:

  • SB815 (Sen. Lightford/Rep. Ammons) - creates a Commission on Equitable Public University Funding to research, model, and ultimately recommend specific criteria and approaches for an equity-based funding model for public universities. The Commission will begin work no later than October 15, 2021 and deliver its recommendations by July 1, 2023. See our full statement here. PCC will be sharing resources and updates on this historic effort in the year ahead - stay tuned!
  • SB190 (Sen. Glowiak Hilton/Rep.West) - requires colleges and universities to designate at least one employee to serve as a liaison for housing insecure students to assist students in accessing related resources and services. Each college and university must also develop a plan to provide access to on-campus housing between academic breaks to homeless students enrolled at its institution.
  • SB267 (Sen. Villanueva/Rep. Guzzardi) - requires institutions to collect data on student parents in Illinois so that the state has a better understanding of the needs of students who are parents and to help colleges and universities recruit, retain, and graduate this significant student population.
  • HB226 (Rep. Greenwood/Sen. Belt) - requires all public colleges and universities to implement a test-optional admissions policy for Illinois students, eliminating requirements that prospective Illinois students submit a standardized test score for admissions consideration. The push for test-optional admissions is built on research that shows that compared to measures like GPA, test scores track more closely with income and race than a student's college readiness. We know test-optional policies alone will not eliminate the disparities in access to higher education but HB226 is a necessary first step.
  • HB3438 (Rep. Hirschauer/Sen. Villa) beginning in the 2022-23 academic year, this bill requires universities and community colleges to designate an employee as an Undocumented Student Resource Liaison to be available on campus to provide assistance to undocumented students and mixed status students within the United States in streamlining access to financial aid and academic support to successfully matriculate to degree completion.

Congratulations to all the advocates and elected officials who dedicated themselves to these legislative measures. PCC will be tracking these bills as they head to the Governor's Office and begin implementation and will continue to share opportunities for action.

Budget

In the early morning hours of June 1, the General Assembly passed a $42 billion state budget based on tax revenue sources and $2.5 billion in spending from federal relief funds. Like many sectors, spending on higher education remained relatively flat, including flat-funding for institutions and programs like the AIM HIGH grant program. The legislature did increase funding for some programs, adding $28 million to the Monetary Award Program, providing funding for university participation in the common application, and $250,000 for implementation of the Illinois Board of Higher Education's strategic plan.

While PCC advocated for a $50 million increase in MAP, funding for implementation of the Mental Health Early Action on Campus Act, and increased funding for the Minority Teachers Initiative which were not realized this year, we appreciate the difficult decisions legislators faced in delivering this year's budget and applaud the General Assembly for continuing to invest in higher education. PCC will continue to work with the Governor's Office and Illinois' elected officials to ensure higher education and critical programs like MAP are prioritized in the years ahead. 
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States Policy We're Watching

University of California System Will Not Consider Tests in Admissions or Scholarships
The University of California Board of Regents voted to eliminate the use of SAT and ACT, not only in admissions, but also in allocating scholarships to students. The policy will be phased in over the next five years, and contrary to a plan that the Board of Regents approved last May, it will be test-blind, meaning that students will not submit test scores. Test-optional and test-blind policies have potential to increase equity in admissions, but are not a panacea; rather, they should be coupled with thoughtful evaluation of institutions' admissions practices and external accountability measures. 

Hundreds of Thousands of Students Apply to Michigan's Stimulus-Funded Free College Programs
The State of Michigan has launched Future Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect, two free college programs utilizing COVID-19 stimulus package funding, and has seen applications that have surpassed its expectations for either. 
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Get to Know Illinois' Leaders—An Interview with State Rep. Katie Stuart

Representative Katie Stuart of Edwardsville, a former elementary and high school math teacher and Southern Illinois University math instructor, was appointed this year to the role of chair of the House Higher Education Committee, taking over for Leader Carol Ammons. Some of Representative Stuart's higher education priorities have included securing protections for student borrowers, working toward fair funding and affordability for Illinois universities, and increasing opportunities for students and resources for university employees.

In this second quarterly newsletter, Representative Stuart reflects on the recent legislative session and shares her hopes and goals for higher education in the years ahead. Read the full interview here
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Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) Happenings

Students' Perspectives, the Pandemic and the College Experience
Several students from PCC's Student Advisory Council penned blogs that offer a glimpse into how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their college experience. These students, representing community colleges and public universities across Chicago, share insights about adjusting to remote learning for the first time as well as integrating part-time employment on top of other non-academic concerns. Visit the Illinois Colleges Forward website to read their blogs.

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Upcoming Events

  • IHEN Legislative Session Debrief - June 22, 2021
    Join us on Tuesday, June 22 from 12PM - 1PM  to learn more about the higher education related policies that moved this legislative session, critical higher education budget items, and learn what actions steps are next. Guest speakers have been invited and a formal agenda will be provided to all who register. RSVP here.
  • To&Through Data Collaborative: Dr. Jane Stout - June 22, 2021
  • 2021 College Changes Everything Conference - Week of July 12, 2021

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 📢 Take Action 1-2-3 📢

READ & SHARE.

Diverse Stakeholders Across Illinois Outline Key Steps to Address 29% Drop in Black Student Enrollment in Higher Education
The Equity Working Group, a statewide, cross-sector partnership convened by Chicago State University, has identified critical actions needed to close equity gaps and enable Black students, families, and communities to thrive and survive in Illinois. These actions are detailed in the Equity Working Group for Black Student Access and Success in Illinois Action Plan.

Read the Action Plan at: http://bit.ly/ILEquityWkGroup 

A Special Thank You Regarding SB815

On behalf of the Illinois Higher Education Network (IHEN), we want to thank Leader Lightford, Leader Ammons, and all of the advocates and supporters of SB815. It was your support, testimonies, and witness filings that made the passage of this legislation possible. Because of your advocacy we are on our way to developing an equitable funding model for Illinois' public universities and a more equitable higher education system for Illinois students.

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Illinois Higher Education Network Applauds the General Assembly for Creating a Commission on Equitable Public University Funding

public-policy-icon-whitebackground
Senator Kimberly A. Lightford

Chicago, IL - June 1, 2021

Last night the General Assembly took a critical step towards equitable higher education funding by passing SB815, a bill creating the Commission on Equitable Public University Funding. This bill builds on the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus' landmark education bill that passed earlier this year during January's lame duck session, and reflects months of negotiations and collaboration with stakeholders across higher education. The Commission, made up of a diverse set of higher education stakeholders, will research, model, and ultimately recommend specific criteria and approaches for an equity-based higher education funding model for public universities, as Illinois did for K-12 when it created the Evidence-Based Funding model in 2017. This is vital to rebuilding a prosperous and equitable future for Illinois, and the Illinois Higher Education Network (IHEN) applauds Leader Kimberly Lightford and Leader Carol Ammons for their steadfast leadership on this bill.

While great strides have been made to address K-12 funding inequities, and stakeholders have provided recommendations to improve funding in early childhood education, the same cannot be said for higher education. In fact, Illinois may be the only state without a formula to distribute base funding to its universities.

Representative Carol Ammons

Disinvestment, racial and socioeconomic gaps in access, and inequitable distribution of state funds have forced Illinois' Black and Latinx students and students from low-income families to pay some of the highest college costs in the nation. The state's public colleges and universities disproportionately serving students from low-income households and students of color are also its most financially vulnerable. Although these institutions need more funding to support students, they instead receive a fraction of the state's annual appropriations.

With the passage of SB815, the state can now learn from and build on state and national research and existing legislative efforts through the Illinois' legislative bipartisan, bicameral Higher Education Working Group led by Representative Katie Stuart, to recommend an adequate, equitable, and stable higher education funding model that ensures every university can provide adequate academic, financial, and social-emotional student supports.

We thank the General Assembly and look forward to the work ahead.

Advance Illinois
Partnership for College Completion
Women Employed
Young Invincibles
Illinois Higher Education Network

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Member Spotlight: Meet Tracy Templin, National Louis University

Tracy Templin Tracy Templin, Director of Strategy and Operations at National Louis University

1. What is your current role/title?
I serve as the Executive Director of Strategy and Operations within the Undergraduate College at National Louis University.


2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?
I have earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from Washington University in St. Louis. I hold a B.A. in English and Sociology from DePaul University.


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

During my freshman year at DePaul University, while I received Pell and state aid and took out loans to help with the cost of attendance, I still struggled with the cost of a private university education and living expenses. The full weight of this financial burden wasn't realized until I began to receive my tuition bills as they mounted up over fall and winter terms. By spring term of my first year, I had decided to leave and transfer to a public university the next fall, offering a more affordable option. At the end of the term, I made an appointment with my professor/faculty advisor in the English department, to inform her I was transferring due to financial constraints. Several weeks later, after the term had ended, I received a notice from DePaul that I had been awarded a grant from the institution that provided additional funding for tuition expenses. Unbeknownst to me, my professor had advocated on my behalf for this grant, which is the reason that I ended up persisting and was able to graduate from DePaul. This experience continues to motivate me each day to be an advocate for students facing similar financial challenges in affording a college education.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?
There are so many things! When I first came to NLU, I was drawn to the Undergraduate College's mission is to drive equity in bachelor's degree attainment. This means that the equity work is not just another initiative, but it is central to how we operate and serve students. As we have grown in students, faculty, and staff, I am excited each day to collaborate with, be challenged by, and learn from colleagues who are committed to this work and their own personal journey. While I am excited by how much our College has accomplished and the individual success stories of our students, I am also motivated by our commitment to continuous improvement and challenging the policies, processes, and mindsets that contribute to inequity as we work towards justice on behalf of our students.


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

As a white woman in a leadership role at an institution that is serving predominately Latinx and Black students, I strive to continue my own learning and challenge my own biases as I engage in everyday practices. Through my role, I have had the opportunity to lead and participate on the Core Team that developed our Institution's Equity Plan, incorporating student, staff, and faulty voice as we developed the plan. Another area I am passionate about in my role is developing the capacity and culture in the College to use data through an equity-minded approach to drive action. Equity-minded data use by leadership, faculty, and staff has resulted in the examination of policies, curriculum and instructional practices that may be contributing to disparate outcomes and influenced the implementation of new or revised practices to increase equity across our college.

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More bad news for higher education: Illinois community college enrollment plummets as COVID-19 sidelines would-be students

More bad news for higher education: Illinois community college enrollment plummets as COVID-19 sidelines would-be students

May 5, 2021

By Elyssa Cherney - CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Enrollment declines at Illinois colleges and universities continue to outpace other states, with community colleges shouldering the brunt of the losses, as the coronavirus pandemic looms over another school year, according to new national and state data.

The state's community colleges saw enrollment plunge by 13% this spring compared with spring 2020, when the pandemic and schoolwide lockdowns were just beginning, according to research from the National Student Clearinghouse. Total postsecondary enrollment in Illinois dropped by 5.2% and undergraduate enrollment slid by 7.5%. All three figures are worse than the national average.

"There were very significant declines in the fall that have largely continued in the spring," said Lisa Castillo Richmond, managing director of the Partnership for College Completion, a Chicago-based nonprofit. Castillo Richmond noted vaccinations weren't widely underway and financial uncertainty abounded when students were signing up for spring classes.

Enrollment falls at community colleges
During the coronavirus pandemic, enrollment at Illinois community colleges fell dramatically. Chicago colleges are represented in dark blue and the suburban colleges are in light blue.

Though colleges are hoping to welcome more students back for in-person classes next fall, most relied on online learning or hybrid formats this year. Capacity limits, health concerns and economic challenges interrupted progress for thousands of students who didn't return to campuses. Some worry students who paused their studies — particularly students of color or from underprivileged backgrounds — might never come back.

At Elgin Community College, spring enrollment is down nearly 15%, said Gregory Robinson, the dean of students who also serves as associate vice president of student services and development.

While declines were recorded across all student demographic groups, the college's adult education programs, which offer GED completion and English as a second language courses, took the biggest hit — a 30% drop, Robinson said. Those classes predominantly serve Hispanic students, he said.

Many students at Elgin had never taken online courses and needed time to adjust, Robinson said. The community college will offer more in-person classes this fall but will also continue to provide hybrid and online courses, particularly for lecture-based disciplines.

"We have tried to set up a schedule to accommodate that," said Annamarie Schopen, assistant vice president of teaching, learning and student development. "We have many, many hybrid sections offered this fall and then we have a nice balance of synchronous and asynchronous. Our fully face-to-face is still a little bit lower."

Class size limits last year meant fewer students could sign up to learn in person, which affected enrollment, Schopen said. Elgin saw fall 2020 enrollment dip by 16%, Schopen said.

Spring enrollment is down 14% at Joliet Junior College this year, according to Robert Morris, dean of enrollment management. Figures collected by the Illinois Community College Board on the 10th day of classes show greater losses but don't account for students continuing to register for late-start programs, Morris said.

Morris said that many students chose not to enroll because of financial or technological limitations, though the school started a laptop loaner program and offered financial aid through federal relief funding, he said.

"Many students that typically go to school here are in professions that were most impacted by the pandemic, whether that be retail or restaurants or working at Amazon," Morris said.

He's optimistic that more students will return for the fall but doesn't expect a complete rebound. Students will only come back if they see the professional benefit of earning a college degree, he said.

"I think the pandemic has really caused people for the first time to calculate the value of going to college," he said. "Everyone is taking a much more closer look at their own situation."

The situation for community colleges remains precarious nationwide. In prior recessions, community colleges saw steady or increased enrollment from adults who wanted to increase their skills during a shaky job market, but the pandemic has exacerbated economic challenges, Castillo Richmond said.

"The community college population is a much more financially vulnerable population," she said. "Community colleges serve far higher percentages of low-income students, adult students and students who are caregivers."

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, community college enrollment nationwide stooped even lower this spring than in the fall. While fall 2020 enrollment was down 9.5% compared with the same period the previous year, the numbers for this spring dropped 11.3%.

Undergraduate enrollment as a whole also took its deepest dive since the beginning of the pandemic, down 5.9%.

A different data set from the Illinois Community College Board shows spring enrollment dropped by 14.2%, or 39,715 students. The report, published in March, notes that more than 65,000 students graduated from the state's 48 community colleges in 2020 despite the enrollment dip, the sixth highest annual graduation rate.

Only two community colleges saw enrollment increases this spring — McHenry County College and Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. The report did not include demographic information, but ICCB said it would analyze that information in the summer to more fully understand the pandemic's toll.

The spring data mirrors what ICCB saw in the fall, when enrollment was also down 14%. Then, enrollment for Black and Latino students declined about 19% compared with a 12% decrease for white students.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education, which oversees four-year universities, hasn't yet released spring enrollment data.


Source: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-illinois-college-enrollment-spring-covid-tt-20210505-tng3jsbjejbchj5324sjoaggky-story.html

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Can you get into college without an ACT or SAT? University of Illinois might extend test-optional admissions beyond the COVID-19 pandemic that prompted the change

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March 22, 2021

By Elyssa Cherney - CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Nearly half of all undergraduate applicants declined to submit ACT or SAT scores to Illinois' largest university during the pandemic-altered admissions cycle — the first time in decades that students could choose whether to share results from the high-stakes exams.

Now, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wants to extend the test-optional policy for at least two more years, citing continued disruptions from COVID-19.

"We were able to make what I think are good, sound decisions with or without test scores, and we worked really hard not to penalize the students if they elected not to submit a test score," said Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions.

About 40% of in-state students withheld test scores, compared with 60% of international students and 25% of out-of-state students, Borst said. In total, about 44% of all prospective students opted to apply without test scores and the overall number of undergraduate applications jumped significantly, particularly for competitive programs such as computer science, Borst said.

The recommendation to expand test-optional admissions for 2022 and 2023 applicants relates solely to challenges posed by the pandemic — such as limited opportunities for high school students to take the exams — and was not in response to long-standing equity concerns that have prompted many universities to abandon the requirement altogether.

The decision, however, isn't finalized. Despite support from the Faculty Senate, U. of I.'s board of trustees must also approve the proposal.

In May, the board will also consider requests from the Springfield and Chicago campuses to extend test-optional admissions for another two years "because of the pandemic and to encourage talented students to apply to our institutions," according to spokeswoman Kirsten Ruby.

UIC has already waived test requirements for first-year undergraduate applications through fall 2022.

More than two dozen colleges and universities across the state have adopted test-optional admissions since 2005, according to the Partnership for College Completion, a Chicago-based organization that advocates for low-income, first generation students and students of color. The PCC has called for all schools in Illinois to drop testing requirements in the wake of COVID-19, saying inconsistent practices will limit less-resourced students' chances to attend selective institutions.

Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the PCC, said years of research demonstrate that high school grade-point average is a better predictor of college success and that test scores tend to correlate with income brackets and a family's ability to pay for expensive test preparation lessons.

"That message has resonated and been received by universities all over the country, even before the pandemic," Westbrook said, noting how the University of Chicago and DePaul University previously went test optional.

Some supporters of using standardized tests in college admissions say the scores can help less privileged students stand out and provide important data to prospective students about an institution's academic environment.

While equity isn't at the core of U. of I.'s proposed extension, professors opened the door to that conversation. When the Faculty Senate overwhelmingly approved the test-optional policy at a meeting this month, it also called for the creation of a task force "to evaluate the efficacy and fairness of entrance exams."

The task force would collect data to examine the impact of the test-optional policy on student enrollment, performance and diversity in coming years.

U. of I. isn't alone in revising its admissions policy. Other Big 10 schools including the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Penn State University are stretching the test-optional protocols through 2023 while others, most notably the University of California, are exploring permanent options to ditch standardized tests.

Competitive private colleges such as Harvard and Stanford universities will also continue a test-optional policy for another year.

"We urge students not to jeopardize their health or well-being to take future sittings of these non-required tests," according to a message on Stanford's website, which also notes there will be limited access to admission testing worldwide.

For Illinois students, scheduling exams proved difficult last year, when the pandemic hit in the spring and school districts abruptly shut down for extended periods. National testing dates for the ACT and SAT were canceled time and again.

Many Illinois students take the SAT just once — for free at school — and don't have access elsewhere, so the Illinois State Board of Education, with permission from the federal government, waived its completion as a graduation requirement for students who are now 12th graders.

Now Illinois schools must offer the SAT to current juniors in April or have them test as seniors in October, according to ISBE. The U.S. Department of Education won't allow districts to skip assessments for a second year, saying data is needed to assess student progress and learning loss.

But it's still not clear how many chances applicants will have to test.

"I don't want a student to be traveling great distances to take the SAT or ACT again because he or she isn't happy with their score," said Borst, the U. of I. undergraduate admissions director.

That seemed to be a challenge for international students too. Borst said many likely struggled to find testing opportunities since international students comprised the largest group to apply without exams, despite historically scoring well. With more than 7,600 international students enrolled in fall 2020, U. of I. boasts one of the largest populations of international scholars of any American university.

Yet for students everywhere, the biggest question is the same: Will applying without tests be a disadvantage?

Borst said there was no significant different in acceptance rates between students who submitted test scores and students who didn't, when comparing candidates within the same grade-point average.

"What we learned through the review cycle this year is that, by and large, test scores acted more as confirmation for us," Borst said, explaining that students who chose challenging classes and earned impressive grades tended to also have high test scores while students with worse grades and less rigorous courses had lower scores.

Borst declined to share total application numbers for this cycle, saying they're still in flux. But schools across the country have reported a surge in undergraduate applications, which some attribute to the more lenient test-optional protocols.


Sourcehttps://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-university-of-illinois-admissions-tests-covid-19-act-sat-20210322-qs74usbcivaqfnu2jqxg76pzh4-story.html

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PCC Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Vol. 1 Issue 1—March 16, 2021

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 Letter from the Executive Director

One of the most repeated phrases of the last year is that COVID-19 has laid bare inequities in our society. Those inequities may be news to some but have long been the lived realities of millions of people in the United States and in the state of Illinois. Factors that have become apparent to some (inequitable access to digital resources, the financial vulnerability of even moderate income families, inequitable access to health care and education) have limited the possibilities of generations of Illinoisans. Those limitations can only be lifted and equity promoted through concerted effort by leaders at all levels. Read More.

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 Snapshot of Federal Higher Education Policy

Colleges and students have been hit hard by COVID-19, and federal relief has stepped in to mitigate some of that loss, in a way that has prioritized low-income students. This includes the passage of the CARES Act in March 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) in December 2020, and the recently passed American Rescue Plan. For more information see the blog on our website, but here are a few quick takeaways from these packages:

Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF)
The CARES Act provided $500 million to higher education in Illinois, half to students in the form of emergency grants and half to institutions. Among other things, institutions used these funds to provide faculty and staff training for online instruction, replace lost revenue from non-tuition sources like parking, food service, and child care, and to subsidize the cost of high-speed internet to students or faculty for online instruction. CRRSA will send an estimated $750 million to Illinois colleges and universities, though only 1/3rd of that has to go to students. The distribution of CARES was equitable in terms of sending more aid to institutions with more full-time Pell-eligible students, and CRRSA built on that by also considering part-time student enrollments, who are more likely to be parents, essential workers, and students of color.

The recently passed American Rescue Plan (ARP) will send an additional $1.3 billion to Illinois higher education, with half of that going toward emergency grants for students. Despite all of the federal funding in CARES, CRRSA, and the ARP, public colleges and universities are still facing far more losses than funding infusions in the wake of COVID-19, so the American Rescue Plan is needed to help close these gaps.

Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Funds
All three stimulus packages include discretionary funds that can be distributed by state governors to provide assistance to students and families through school districts, institutions of higher education, and other education-related organizations. CARES included $108 million in GEER funds that Governor Pritzker distributed $27 million to public universities and $18 million to community colleges based on a formula that like CARES weighed Pell-eligible students, but also gave more funds to institutions with greater percentages of low-income students, and further considered part-time students. Some institutions used the first allocation of GEER funds to provide loaner technology to students, investment in retention efforts, or provide financial support to students for non-tuition-related costs like books and childcare. CRRSA included about $50 million in GEER funds, but the Governor has not released plans for how those funds will be distributed. The American Rescue Plan will include additional funding for colleges, universities, and the Illinois budget, but does not include any GEER funding.

Federal Aid Changes
In addition to federal relief to students and institutions, the CRRSA omnibus bill included some much-needed improvements to the federal Pell grant program, including simplifying the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) form from 108 questions down to 36 and making technical changes that will qualify an additional 550,000 students for aid, and 1.7 million more students will now be able to receive the full award.

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Snapshot of Illinois Higher Education Policy

Looking Back—Lame Duck Session
This year started off with a historic lame-duck session that resulted in several comprehensive bills addressing racism in Illinois' largest systems. The Partnership had the privilege to work alongside the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to help advance the education omnibus, HB2170, a bill aimed at reversing historic systemic racism in education, from birth to career that included several policies that dismantle barriers to Black student success and advance equity including policies on developmental education, minority teacher scholarships, and financial aid reform. Now that the Governor has signed the bill, the Partnership is developing tools and resources to assist colleges and universities in implementation. To learn more about the bill, see our advocacy partner Advance Illinois' detailed summary here.

Looking Ahead—102nd General Assembly
Now Illinois legislators are back to work and focused on budget negotiations and bills responsive to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. To date, over 200 bills have been filed that could impact higher education. We highlight two relevant bills below and you can click here to see a snapshot of some of the other Illinois higher education bills we're tracking.

  • Test-Optional Admissions: Representative Latoya Greenwood refiled HB226, which requires colleges and universities to implement test-optional admissions policies, eliminating requirements that students submit a standardized test score for admissions. While many universities have made this shift in response to COVID-19 disruptions, those policies could be reversed at any time. The push for test-optional admissions is built on research that shows that compared to measures like GPA, test scores track more closely with income and race than a student's college readiness. Further highlighting the risk of the standardized test requirement exacerbating inequity, recent research suggests that lower-income students have lower SAT scores at the end of the month when SNAP benefits tend to run out. For more information, see our fact sheet in support of HB226 here.

Want to learn more about a bill's impact on higher education equity? We're happy to help. Email Emily Goldman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to let us know what you would like us to cover next.

Budget Updates
In Governor Pritzker's proposed budget for FY22, higher education escaped with level-funding and even saw an increase of $28 million in the Monetary Award Program (MAP). While PCC appreciates the financial constraints our state is currently facing, we also know that investment in higher education is critical to the future of our economy, and investment in MAP, can change the trajectory of thousands of Illinois students. That's why the Partnership will continue to advocate for adequate and equitable higher education funding and an additional $50 million investment in MAP. To join us in action, see our Take Action section below.

See PCC's full legislative agenda for 2021 here. 

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Other States' Bills We're Tracking

To help inform Illinois higher education policy, PCC is tracking legislation in other states that could improve equity in access and completion. Here are a few bills we have our eyes on and related articles with more information.

Affordability
In fall 2020, Michigan became the first state to offer tuition support for frontline workers, creating a tuition-free college program for the estimated 625,000 Michiganders who provided essential, frontline services between April – June 2020. Following in Michigan's footsteps, Illinois, Alaska, and New York recently introduced legislation that would create new grant funding for essential workers. To address the sustainability of these programs, states should consider leveraging federal funds to support these programs.

Admissions
Carefully redesigned admission policies (like direct admissions and test-optional policies) can have a significant impact on equity in access to higher education and boost enrollment at Illinois' colleges and universities. Learning from Idaho's direct admissions program which proactively admits students to college, both Minnesota and Illinois have introduced legislation that would create new direct admissions programs. To prioritize equity in access to higher education, programs should be test-optional friendly, include program evaluation, and simplify the application process as much as possible.

Accountability
For-profit colleges are among the most costly college options in Illinois, leading to students taking out large amounts of debt they too often default on. In past recessions this sector has grown, taking advantage of students' ambition but offering degrees that may not lead to more opportunities. Some states are taking it upon themselves to hold these institutions accountable, including Oregon with their HB 2197 bill. This would create a "90/10 rule," where at least 10% of a college's revenue must come from private (non-federal) sources.

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Get to Know Illinois' Leaders—Interview with Sen. Scott Bennett
Senator Scott Bennett of Champaign, a longtime advocate for equity in higher education, was appointed this year to the role of chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. Senator Bennett, a Democrat who has served in the legislature since 2015, represents an area that includes University of Illinois, Parkland College, and Danville Area Community College. Senator Bennett has pushed for increased funding of higher education, as well as the equitable funding formula for Illinois' P-12 education system.

In the first installment of our quarterly interview series "Get to Know Illinois' Leaders," we heard from Sen. Bennett about his priorities for higher ed in Illinois. Read more. 

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Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) Happenings

The Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative (ILEA) is the Partnership's signature effort to catalyze urgent action on college campuses across the state to eliminate racial and socioeconomic graduation disparities on their campuses and significantly increase completion rates for Black, Latinx, and low-income students.

Twenty-six public and private nonprofit colleges and universities are active participants in the ILEA cohort. 36% of all Illinois undergraduates are enrolled at ILEA institutions, which enroll 41% of all Illinois' Black and 64% Latinx undergraduates, respectively. To date, 21 ILEA institutions have published five-year Equity Plans citing key strategies to yield positive student outcomes through a racial equity lens.

The strategies in the Equity Plans include:

  • Redesigning onboarding, orientation, tutoring, developmental education, academic advising, and first-year experience programs to better support student success
  • Developing student mentoring programs specifically designed to support Black, Latinx, and first-generation students
  • Redesigning academic policies to better support student registration and payment processes
  • Creating professional development for faculty and staff to become student-ready institutions and revamping hiring and on-boarding of new staff with an equity lens

*Each quarter we'll share updates on the efforts of ILEA colleges and universities who are all working to close equity gaps on their campuses. 

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Upcoming Events

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📢 Take Action 1-2-3 📢

  1. READ & WEIGH IN. The Illinois Board of Higher Education is seeking feedback on the current draft of their 10-year strategic plan. You can review the current draft and submit comments here.
     
  2. REACH OUT. As students and families across the state continue to be impacted by the financial fall-out from COVID-19, advocacy for increased student aid and institutional supports is more critical than ever. Help us elevate this need by emailing your legislator to request an additional $50 million in MAP funding.
     
  3. SHARE. Share this newsletter with a friend by sharing this sign-up link.

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Special from the PCC Higher Education Policy Quarterly: Interview with State Sen. Scott Bennett

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IL State Sen. Scott Bennett

Senator Scott Bennett of Champaign, a longtime advocate for equity in higher education, was appointed this year to the role of chair of the Senate HIgher Education Committee. Senator Bennett, a Democrat who has served in the legislature since 2015, represents an area that includes University of Illinois, Parkland College, and Danville Area Community College. Senator Bennett has pushed for increased funding of higher education, as well as the equitable funding formula for Illinois' P-12 education system.

In the first installment of our quarterly interview series "Get to Know Illinois Leaders" we heard from Sen. Bennett about his priorities for higher ed in Illinois.

As you reflect on the year ahead, what are your highest hopes for Illinois higher education? What are your greatest fears?

This session will mark my first year as the new Chairperson of the Illinois Senate Higher Education Committee, but I have been a member of that committee since my arrival in the legislature in 2015. In many respects, my hopes and fears for our work remains the same. The constant fear of budget cuts—compounded by revenue shortfalls and a shifting of prioritization that accompanied the pandemic—remain the biggest threat to our higher education system. My highest hopes revolve around continuing the work toward increasing opportunities for more of our citizens to access our state's institutions of higher education.

How will your leadership on the Higher Education Committee be similar to and different from that of your predecessor Senator Pat McGuire?

I learned so much from serving with the previous Chairperson of Higher Education, Senator Pat McGuire. Pat was a model Chair, who took so much time to travel to nearly all of the community colleges and universities in our state to see firsthand how state appropriations would be spent. I also admire the way that he tried to help higher education navigate the budget difficulties during the 2015-2017 budget impasse by looking to form bipartisan, and bicameral coalitions with the Higher Education Working Group. That was real leadership, and I hope to continue in his example.

Avoiding harmful cuts is a critical step toward sustaining higher education's capacity to adequately serve students and deliver much-needed supports throughout the pandemic, which Governor Pritzker has proposed through his budget's flat funding for colleges and universities and a $28 million increase in MAP. What are your priorities for funding higher education through the COVID-19 crisis?

The Governor has proposed level higher education funding in his 2021 budget proposals, but I would note that the individual universities we have already heard from in committee have requested modest increases. It will be a balancing act to find ways to make our institutions whole after most have spent millions dealing with the pandemic, as well as trying to find additional funds for MAP funding for our students most in need.

And as budgets are stretched thin and many colleges across the state are seeing their enrollment decline with affordability, how can we address the greater scale of these problems in the years beyond the pandemic?

The answer to that goes beyond what any one legislator can provide. The struggle remains in asking schools to do more while also improving access by keeping tuition low. All potential solutions are welcome for discussion in Springfield—particularly in the Senate Higher Education Committee

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus had a historic lame duck session, passing monumental legislation aimed at dismantling inequitable policies and practices in Illinois' largest systems – including in higher education. It was a giant step forward, but there is still a lot of work to do to advance racial equity in Illinois. How do you see the legislature's role in advancing racial equity? What will be the greatest barrier to advancing these priorities?

The legislature took some very progressive steps in early 2021. For many members, these changes were long overdue, and for others the significant shifts were a bit disorienting. I expect that the legislature will continue on this progressive trend, and ultimately, I think it's a positive thing when members try to consider issues not from only their own—or their district's—perspective, but try and put themselves in the shoes of those who are affected differently. Individually, we are sent to Springfield to represent our districts, but as a body, the Senate (and House) should act in the best interests of the entire state.

Like last year, we're experiencing a unique legislative session faced with many unique challenges. What advice do you have for advocates working on higher education legislative or budget priorities this session?

The changes in communication since the beginning of the pandemic are obvious, and frankly, I am impressed with the way many advocates have adapted in lobbying their legislators. For the time being, only legislators and staff are physically allowed in the State Capital, but plans are evolving to allow committee witnesses in person (hopefully) soon. In the meantime, I am meeting with more constituents and advocates than ever via phone and Zoom conferences. Most legislative district offices are open, so I would advise reaching out to your own legislator in their district office, and finding out what avenues remain open to communicating with your representative or senator. At the very least, every legislative website allows for e-mail correspondence to either voice your opinion on an issue or request a longer conversation.

Anything else you would like to share with Illinois higher education advocates, institutions, or current/prospective students navigating higher education during these difficult times?

Hang in there. Higher Education in Illinois has undergone a rough decade or two, so there is no one in the field that underestimates the challenges we face. Nevertheless, I am impressed with the current legislature's understanding of the urgency of finding solutions (and funding) in the higher education appropriations. The *will* to help hasn't always been there in the legislature, but it is now. The will alone isn't enough, of course, but it's a welcome sight from my perspective, and helps put us on the path to recovery and reinvestment.

Read PCC's first Policy Quarterly newsletter today.

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PCC Executive Director Introduces New Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Newsletter

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Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D.

One of the most repeated phrases of the last year is that COVID-19 has laid bare inequities in our society. Those inequities may be news to some but have long been the lived realities of millions of people in the United States and in the state of Illinois. Factors that have become apparent to some (inequitable access to digital resources, the financial vulnerability of even moderate income families, inequitable access to health care and education) have limited the possibilities of generations of Illinoisans. Those limitations can only be lifted and equity promoted through concerted effort by leaders at all levels.

The recent shift in federal policy towards open and unapologetic discussions of equity coupled with aggressive leadership from Illinois elected officials, most specifically, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, give us reason to be hopeful. However, with the nation's public health crisis showing signs of improvement, we have to remain vigilant that the inequities we've all been talking about since the pandemic's onset and the racial reckoning brought about by the killing of George Floyd, don't recede from our consciousness. We cannot afford for Illinois to once again settle into a predictable pattern of complacency and outright ambivalence towards the ways in which our systems privilege some and disadvantage others.

The Partnership for College Completion was founded in part on the belief that public policy plays a critical role in increasing equity and positively impacting the life outcomes of the tens of thousands of black, brown, and low-income college students in Illinois. Thus, PCC will continue to work with our state's elected officials to at times support and other times challenge them to enact policies that will lead to increased access and success for students in our state. We are excited to offer our first policy newsletter detailing important developments in our state and national policy landscape that we believe are important to creating the right conditions for student success and increased equity in our state.

In Partnership, 
Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D.
Read PCC's first Policy Quarterly today.


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Level Funding is a Good Starting Point for Higher Ed in a Difficult Year

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Lisa Castillo Richmond, PCC Managing Director and Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D., PCC Executive Director | February 18, 2021

This week's budget news represents some cause for relief for higher education — a relatively 'good news' scenario considering the impacts of the pandemic, following increased investments in the sector by way of last year's budget after years of state-level impasse and neglect. This year's proposed budget includes a $28 million increase in funding for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) — the state's need-based financial aid program — a fully-met pension obligation, and otherwise flat funding for colleges and universities. During yesterday's budget address, the Governor rightly framed MAP as among his most pressing priorities, as college affordability was an issue in Illinois long before the pandemic added further financial hardship for students and their families.

Read the full blog at PCC's Medium page

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