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.

'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


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.


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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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.


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.

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.


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. 

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. 

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

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.


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


 📢 Take Action 1-2-3 📢


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: 

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

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.


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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


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.


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


 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.


 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.


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. 


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.

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.

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.

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.


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. 


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. 


Upcoming Events


📢 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

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

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


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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Illinois revamps college-level developmental education with goal of improving completion rates


February 2021

by Tim Anderson - Stateline Midwest

This past summer, following the killing of George Floyd, legislators across the country began asking questions about racial justice and disparities in their own states. Among them was Illinois Rep. Carol Ammons, and one of her questions, along with other leaders in her state's Legislative Black Caucus, was this: "Is this just a police issue?"
"Our answer was no," she says.
Their legislative response was to develop a sweeping policy agenda built on four pillars: criminal justice reform, economic equity and opportunity, health care and education. Much of the work on that last pillar fell to Ammons, last year's chair of the House Higher Education Committee. Her efforts culminated in January with the passage of HB 2170. The measure seeks changes at all levels of the education system, with an overarching goal of advancing racial equity.
On the higher-education side, one piece of that bill illustrates the kind of systematic reforms being sought. It has to do with how the state's community colleges deliver developmental education to students, and how these institutions choose who takes part in this coursework.
Developmental education is remedial instruction in subjects such as English and math, often traditionally taken before students can move on to college-level, credit-bearing courses. State-level reforms in this policy area became "a centerpiece," Ammons says, in part because of what legislators learned in committee testimony over the summer.
In Illinois, almost half of high school graduates enrolled full-time in a community college are placed in developmental education. Among minority students, this rate is even higher — nearly 71 out of every 100 Black students, for example, and among this group, only six of 100 go on to graduate.
"The traditional developmental-education courses cost students time, money and financial aid, but they don't count toward college credit," Ammons says. "It becomes a barrier."

HB 2170 seeks to change that.

First, community colleges must look beyond standardized test scores and college-placement tests when determining who gets placed in remedial education. For example, a graduating high school student who has a high grade-point average or who has successfully completed college-level or transitional classes must be placed in credit-bearing courses.

Second, HB 2170 uproots the traditional developmental-education approach, calling for it to be replaced with an "evidence-based model that maximizes a student's likelihood of completing an introductory college-level course within his or her first two semesters."

One likely result: community colleges' adoption of a "co-requisite model," under which students are placed directly into college-level coursework with concurrent instructional supports.

"What we've seen with the traditional model is that 18 percent of Black students in math and 29 percent in English completed a gateway course with a C or better in three years," says Emily Goldman, senior policy manager for the Partnership for College Completion.

"With the co-requisite model, it's 69 percent and 64 percent."

Illinois isn't alone in seeking these kinds of policy changes. More states around the country are recognizing the traditional model as an obstacle to postsecondary completion, says Nikki Edgecombe, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center.

The loss of time and money (including the possible exhaustion of financial aid) while taking remedial courses are factors, she notes, but so is the impact on a student's academic outlook.

"It can be demotivating for a student, 'I applied to college, they let me in, and now they won't let me take college classes,' " Edgecombe says. "Getting students into and through their gateway courses is important to generating academic momentum." 


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Building Bridges Across Student Services to Foster Social Belonging — Even Amid Crisis

Creating an equity-minded culture is hard work and takes a community of champions to bring to fruition. It takes commitment from all corners of a campus to ensure student pathways and organizational structures and institutional policies and teaching and learning practices are designed in ways that support more equitable outcomes. As members of the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative (ILEA) implement their Equity Plans for their campuses, the role and engagement of student affairs practitioners remains integral. Therefore, the PCC team made the deliberate choice to host a conference with them in mind. The theme of our 2021 ILEA Winter Equity Institute – Building Bridges Across Student Services to Foster Social Belonging – is meant to underscore a commitment to cultivating a campus environment where all who enter the space feel like they matter and that they belong.

As the Partnership for College Completion gears up for next week's Institute, hear from student development champions at Loyola University Chicago, Olive-Harvey, and Elgin Community College as they provide timely insights on how the convergence of a global pandemic, economic crisis, and the enduring legacy of racism has called them to be innovative and collaborative in reaching students.

Loyola University Chicago
Ashley Williams, M.S.Ed. 
Associate Director for Special Populations, New Students Programs, Student Academic Services
Pronouns: she, her, hers
Olive-Harvey College, City Colleges of Chicago
Michelle Adams  
Dean of Student Services
Pronouns: she, her, hers
Elgin Community College
Rodrigo Lopez
Assistant Dean of College in High School Programs
Division of College Transitions and Secondary Programs

Partnership for College Completion (PCC): How have the effects of COVID-19 and the legacy of racism in America affected the way you develop and deliver services to your students?

Ashley Williams, M.S.Ed. (AW): In a way, our team had to start over. I had to unlearn a lot of repeated oppressive rhetoric. I now work through a clearer double consciousness that prioritizes the needs of the oppressed, without fear, I might add. Sometimes I worry if I am not acknowledging all the grief our students are facing. We must recognize all that is happening to our students and consider the factors in our discovery and decision-making stages. I try to imagine all the things a student is carrying with them and consider ways to help them put something down. My team understands that now is not the time to prioritize signature experiences above all else. Being student-centered during COVID-19 means making room for changes as we go along.

Michelle Adams (MA): Olive-Harvey has always understood our population and the importance of delivering services to them. We know that prior to Covid-19 our students always needed that in person connection or JIT approach of "we are here". Overnight we pivoted to virtual communication, created focus groups, increased department touchpoints and availability. When the civil unrest happened, we gave our students virtual spaces to have conversation about how they were feeling about Covid and the impacts of Racism happening before our eyes.

Rodrigo Lopez (RL): We have been highly-critical and vigilant of our procedures that may limit students' access to dual credit coursework. As an example, we have worked with our school districts to improve opportunities for students to meet program requirements, which requires that we collectively acknowledge the fact that certain policies have the potential to counter any and all progress to improve minoritized students' success.

PCC: There is extensive research supporting the impact on students - especially students of color - when they have staff who share similar racial and ethnic backgrounds. What practices or policies would you recommend for institutions to effectively recruit and retain staff of color?

AW: I have many thoughts on the current state of staff of color retention in higher education, but I would sum them up in two themes: ethical conflicts and disingenuous messages. At the highest levels of an institution, individuals must challenge the definition of leadership and diversity. From there, empower individuals responsible for staff wellbeing by giving them the breathing room and resources to make necessary changes.

Institutions should also invest in affinity spaces that promote a greater sense of belonging and do so with some enthusiasm. People want to know the work they are doing matters. It is a simple practice of acknowledgment and gratitude.


  • Encouraging staff to join and participate in organizations that develop them professionally shows support.
  • Create a welcoming atmosphere for staff and students to join campus committees and share their diverse opinions and backgrounds.
  • As a leader, participate in DEI conversations that may be "uncomfortable" so that you expand your knowledge and understanding and help grow your institution. Challenge colleagues to do the same to create an example for staff.
  • Look at your student population, does your staff, faculty and administration mirror that at all levels? Practices such as succession planning and diverse hiring committees, can make staff and students feel welcomed and valued.

RL: Having worked for three separate Hispanic-Serving Institutions, I believe that institutions can be successful in diversifying their workforce by integrating this into their operational plans. Whenever possible, incorporate internal staff of color in the process and leverage their leadership. Stay connected to the community and build purposeful recruitment networks to maximize the opportunities for professionals to engage with the institution.

PCC: How has collaboration taken on new meaning in how your department and/or institution functions during Covid-19?

AW: Simply put, collaboration is how we hold each other upright during COVID-19. Most professionals I work with and know are working at the highest levels of capacity. Collaboration has become a strategy for survival more than a desire to create new partnerships. In many ways, the act itself has become a vessel for challenging systemic dysfunction within organizations. My advice is to use collaboration as a tool to challenge norms and interrogate systems. We identify a unified voice in collaborative spaces and help those least often provided with a platform be seen and heard. It is pretty powerful when you think about it like that.

MA: We work harder at communicating effectively with each other due to increased use of email. Academic Departments have developed protocols with Student Service departments to eliminate student barriers. Staying committed to creating initiatives to impact student success has been helpful. Examples include: curbside food pantry service, afterhours peer mentoring and technology tutoring.

RL: Trust and self-care. Many of our processes and services have had to be reinvented - often more than once. As such, we have had to rely on each other to share the brunt of the work and remind ourselves that we can step away to regroup whenever necessary.

PCC: As you reflect on your own career and experiences with students, what are 3 primary skills that practitioners need in their toolbox to make positive change(s) today?

AW: First, I would say intrusive advising skills. COVID-19 and the remote learning experience forces us to think differently. We have an opportunity to learn from our students by increasing our interactions with them and listening for real concerns.

Second, I offer up emotional intelligence—the strategy contributing to seeing change through. You must know how to listen and observe. Take more time to name the barriers we are facing before jumping into the work. We want individuals to go above and beyond, but we may be missing the chance to create the right kind of space for them to thrive.

And lastly, you have to know yourself, and I mean TRULY know yourself and your worth. In the earlier stages of my career, I found it easier to hide my strengths for the team's betterment, but I realize that served no one as I look back. In this phase of my career, I am prioritizing self-preservation and purpose.


  • Be willing to think outside of your normal box and invite others to be creative with you.
  • Having Compassion for students allows us to identify how we can make a difference
  • Don't stop learning, what you learn today can help you support students tomorrow

RL: Learn from your students and their communities. Become an active participant in promoting student success. Promote, support, and celebrate student advocacy.

Learn more about the ILEA initiative today. 

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Member Spotlight: Meet Marisol Velázquez, Morton College


1. What is your current role/title?

I have the pleasure of serving as the Dean of Student Services at Morton College. Recently, celebrated my 13th year anniversary with the college.

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

Currently, I'm pursuing a Doctorate in Education from DePaul University, earned a Master's degree in Urban Planning and Policy and hold a B.A. in Liberal Arts and Sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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

Morton College has supported me in more ways than one through my educational journey. I am eternally grateful for the ongoing support that the college has provided. Morton College has been extremely supportive and encouraging by offering not only systems of support, mentorship but also financial assistance through our tuition reimbursement. My colleagues are my biggest supporters and I'm grateful for their guidance and positive outlook. Our President, Dr. Stan Fields is who encouraged me to begin pursing my doctorate. Without his encouragement and mentorship, I would not be in the final phase of my doctorate.

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

Working for a Hispanic Serving Institution where our student body is composed of a large majority of minoritized students, we have a responsibility to institutionalize equity minded practices. I am excited about our equity work because we are not working as individuals but as an institution to remove existing disparities. We have an opportunity to create real impact in our student's lives and the lives of their families. It's truly exciting to experience that together we are challenging a system that for long has disadvantaged our students and community. We are challenging more than the "this is how it was done before" mentality and breaking down barriers that ensure our students graduate and persist. Lastly, witnessing others wanting to be part of equity initiatives gives me confidence that change is inevitable.

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

As a first-generation college student, who worked multiple jobs to afford college, raised by single mother of four, I have lived the same struggles many of our students are currently facing. One of the ways that my role impacts equitable outcomes is by having a seat at the table and sharing my lens with the decision makers to ensure our students' needs are recognized and addressed. Being in my position allows me to develop, introduce and execute equity initiatives such as ILEA. Being part of the ILEA Cohort expands on the institution's commitment to racial equity. The college recognizes the transformation that needs to take place in order to be equity leaders in removing the inequitable conditions ingrained in the fabric of our education system. Our equity plan is our pledge to hold our self and the institution accountable to closing equity gaps.

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2021 ILEA Winter Equity Institute Recap


The Partnership for College Completion (PCC) held its first-ever virtual Winter Equity Institute on February 18-19, 2021, with over 300 staff from 26 institutions in attendance! 

The theme of the Winter Equity Institute was Building Bridges Across Student Services to Foster Social Belonging and the event was designed for staff and practitioners from student affairs, student development, and holistic support services personnel.

The first day of the Institute focused on building holistic supports for students with an equity lens. Highlights included a keynote address titled, "Racial Equity in our Colleges and Universities: An Imperative Call to Action" led by Dr. Frank Harris, III, Professor of postsecondary education and Co-Director of the Community College Equity Assessment Lab (CCEAL) at San Diego State University. 

Other Day 1 highlights included a "Prioritizing Holistic Care in Student Services" panel led by ILEA practitioners Tania Boisson from Oakton Community College, Jacquelyn Werner & Eric Crabtree-Nelson from Harold Washington College, and Dr. Aurélio Valente from National Louis University as well as a session titled, "Strategies for Culturally Responsive Mental Health Support for Diverse Students" led by Dr. Sofia Pertuz, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer from the JED Foundation. Dr. Harris closed out the first day the Institute with the workshop, "Beyond the Plan: How to Ensure Your Equity Efforts Achieve Their Desired Results."

Highlights of the second day of the Institute focused on building supports for practitioners and professionals of color and featured a "Student Teach-In" session led by members of PCC's Student Advisory Council, Ahmed Elfaki from Kishwaukee College, Lauren Hassen from Moraine Valley Community College, Daliyah Sanders from Harper College, Marketta Sims from City Colleges of Chicago: Kennedy-King, and Marnee Ostoa from City Colleges of Chicago: Harold Washington. The session featured recorded remarks from Gaylen Rivers from Northern Illinois University and Karen Suarez from Oakton Community College.

Other Day 2 highlights included the opening session "The Art of Retaining Women of Color Professionals" led by higher education professionals and founding members of Career Killing Moves, Dr. Paige Gardner, Dr. Kristina Garcia, and Dr. Pearl Ratunil. This was followed by the "Widening the Leadership Pipeline for Professionals of Color" panel led by Dr. Edward F. Martinez from Suffolk County Community College - Ammerman Campus, Jamar Orr from Roosevelt University, and Marisol Velazquez from Morton College.  Dr. Kyle Westbrook, PCC's Executive Director wrapped up the 2021 ILEA Winter Equity Institute with a reflection of the event.

Institute by the Numbers:

  • Total Number of Attendees: 308
  • Highest Session Attendance 
    • Welcome & Keynote (240 attendees)
    • Strategies for Mental Health (150 attendees)
    • Art of Retaining Women of Color (142 attendees)
  • Highest Overall Participation (2-yr): College of Lake County
  • Highest Overall Participation (4-yr): Northeastern Illinois University
  • Top WHOVA Engagers: Scott Friedman (Moraine Valley Community College), Daiana Quiroga-Nevares (Morton College), and Betsi Burns (Loyola University)
  • Institute Evaluation, Quality of the Institute:
    • 94% of respondents rated the quality of the overall Winter Equity Institute as either excellent or very good
    • Of all the Institute sessions, the opening keynote and the Art of Retaining Women of Color Professionals were ranked highest in terms of usefulness to participants' equity work.
    • 100% of survey respondents acknowledged that the Institute was helpful in moving forward their understanding of how to achieve equity in student outcomes at their campus.
    • Top comments:
  • "Great topics! Thank you for the student panel. I hope to see them included in future programming."
    "The presenters were awesome with real stories that relate to the students and families we serve."
    "I loved the enthusiasm, sincerity, and dedication of the presenters!"
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Letter to Congress on Student and Taxpayer Protections


February 2, 2021

Dear Member of Congress:

Welcome to the 117th Congress. As 53 organizations working on behalf of students, consumers, veterans, faculty and staff, civil rights advocates, researchers, and others concerned about unaffordable student debts and predatory practices, we are providing an outline of our coalition's higher education priorities. As Congress continues to consider reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) and to evaluate other higher education proposals, including COVID-19 related aid, we strongly urge you to support policies that strengthen safeguards for taxpayers and students, including low-income students and students of color.

The federal government plays a critical role in putting higher education within reach for millions of Americans, by providing grants and loans to help finance their education. But the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a shift to unproven online education, and has led to enormous job loss. Similar economic circumstances have historically driven dramatic enrollment increases, particularly at for-profit colleges.i

Unfortunately, some colleges engage in predatory practices that can mislead or defraud students, and can consistently leave students with worthless degrees and debts they cannot afford.ii The data clearly demonstrate that a disproportionate number of these institutions are privately owned and operated on a for-profit basis.iii Veterans, low-income students, and students of color have been specifically targeted and disproportionately harmed by predatory colleges.iv Taxpayers are investing billions of dollars in for-profit colleges each year via federal student financial aid programs.v But too often, students are left with degrees or diplomas that are not respected in the job Too frequently students leave these schools with high debt but with no degree or diploma.vii One study has shown that students at for-profit colleges default almost four times as often as students attending community colleges.viii

Meanwhile, racial inequity is fueled by predatory colleges that disproportionately enroll students of color. Black and Latino students attending for-profit colleges are less likely to complete programs, and borrow an average of $10,000 more than Black and Latino students attending public colleges.ix

Over the past four years, regulations and other protections intended to address these well-documented problems, including the Department of Education's "borrower defense to repayment rule" and "gainful employment rule," have been rolled back or rescinded. Thousands of borrowers, including many veterans, who have demonstrated that they were misled and lied to by their colleges, continue to fight to cancel their student loans.x

Meanwhile, new borrowers are faced with a borrower defense rule that was opposed by bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, and that will make it virtually impossible for any student to cancel student loans taken based on lies by a college, and no college is likely to have to pay back the cost of loans cancelled due to misconduct.

As you continue to work toward an overdue HEA reauthorization, and to consider other legislative proposals impacting higher education including measures specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, we ask that you ensure that common-sense protections for students and taxpayers are improved. Specifically, we seek to ensure that four core existing protections are restored, enforced, and strengthened in any higher education legislation: the 90-10 rule, borrower defense to repayment, gainful employment, and the ban on incentive compensation.

90/10 Rule

The 90/10 Rule is an important and long-standing HEA provision that ensures for-profit colleges demonstrate market viability by forbidding for-profit corporations from being wholly dependent on federal funds.xi The rule has its genesis in the early GI Bill and is intended to ensure that taxpayer funds are not used to prop-up a subpar, failing enterprise. A college or school offering a quality education at a competitive price should be able to attract other sources of tuition from employers, scholarship providers, state funds, and students themselves. It is important in preventing waste, fraud, and abuse in higher education.

However, under current law, education funds from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (including the GI Bill) and the U.S. Department of Defense (including "Tuition Assistance") were inadvertently left out of the statute, and are not required to be counted as federal funds.xii This loophole has the unfortunate consequence of incentivizing for-profit schools to target veterans, service members, and their families with aggressive and deceptive recruiting tactics in order to gain access to their GI Bill and military tuition aid. Additionally, the thresholds set by the rule have been lowered from the original 85/15 set in 1992. The important purpose of the 90/10 rule must be restored by closing the loophole and returning to an 85/15 threshold.

Borrower Defense to Repayment

The HEA includes a provision that allows for "borrower defense to repayment." The provision allows a student's financial aid obligations to be discharged if a borrower demonstrates loans were agreed to as a result of misrepresentation, fraud, or other illegal conduct. While the provision has been law for many years, it was rarely asserted, and no clear process was established for students to seek relief. The collapse of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech brought broad public attention to pervasive fraudulent misrepresentations made to students by these and other predatory colleges, and resulted in a surge of claims filed by students. In 2016, a regulation was adopted to set forth a process that helped to ensure that neither defrauded students nor taxpayers are left on the hook for wrongdoing by schools, and provided automatic loan cancellation to students whose schools closed suddenly.xiii

Rather than using the process created by the 2016 rule to address the claims of the more than 140,000 student borrowers who have filed claims, and recover funds from colleges that engage in misleading tactics, that rule was replaced in 2019 with a new rule making it virtually impossible for borrowers who have been lied to succeed in cancelling their loans.xiv While bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate voted to stop the 2019 borrower defense rule, it is now in effect.xv Meanwhile, thousands of student borrowers continue to fight to cancel more than a fraction of their student loans administratively and in court.xvi Students must have a clear and straightforward path to complete loan discharges when the school they attended has been engaged in misconduct, students must be able to automatically discharge loans when schools close suddenly, and the Department of Education must be able to recover the cost of cancelled loans from colleges.

Gainful Employment

The HEA requires that all career education programs offered at public, non-profit, and for-profit colleges receiving federal student aid dollars "prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation." A rule finalized in 2014 explained what gainful employment required: that programs provide basic information about how many students get jobs, how much they earn, and how much debt they have, and that those programs that continuously left their graduates with more debt than they can repay must improve or lose eligibility for federal funding.xviiixvii The regulation worked to drive improvement, with 9 in 10 colleges having no failing programs in 2016. Nonetheless, in 2019 the Department of Education rescinded the rule at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $6 billion. A strong gainful employment requirement must become permanent and be fully implemented.

Incentive Compensation Ban

The Higher Education Act's ban on incentive compensation (commissioned sales) was enacted with strong bipartisan support in 1992 to reduce high-pressure, deceptive sales tactics in college admissions. Congressional intent was that colleges should not reward individuals or third parties for enrolling students, by paying commissions or bonuses based on the number of students enrolled, because it puts the financial interests of college employees, and their associates, before the needs of students.

In 2015, the Department of Education's Inspector General called for greater oversight and enforcement of the ban on incentive compensation, in order to provide greater protection for students and taxpayers.xix Instead, there has been little enforcement of the ban, while colleges have increasingly relied on the Departments guidance document to contract with third party "online program managers" compensated on the basis of the number of students enrolled.xx The incentive compensation ban must be better enforced to prevent abusive recruiting and sales tactics by colleges.

Additional Proposals

We also support other legislative efforts to strengthen the integrity of colleges and prevent abusive tactics, specifically ensuring that the cohort default rate is not subject to manipulation; that resources are directed towards students via instruction and support services rather than primarily spent on marketing advertising and compensation; that colleges, particularly those converting from for-profit to non-profit or public status, have robust governance structures in place to prevent private inurement and independent decision making, and to make sure that accreditors and state authorizers uphold their role in the higher education triad.

We would like to offer ourselves as a resource and look forward to working together with this Congress to make certain that common-sense laws and regulations are strengthened and enforced, and to ensure the efficient use of taxpayer dollars by colleges. We urge you to support strong higher education policies that minimize waste, fraud, and abuse in higher education, and that protect students, their families, and the taxpaying public from predatory practices at some colleges.


American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
American Federation of Teachers
Americans for Financial Reform
Campaign for America's Future
Center for American Progress
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for Public Interest Law
Center for Responsible Lending
Children's Advocacy Institute
Clearinghouse on Women's Issues
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of California
CWA Local 1081
Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation
David Halperin, Attorney
Democrats for Education Reform
East Bay Community Law Center
Education Reform Now
Generation Progress
Government Accountability Project
Higher Education Loan Coalition
Hildreth Institute
Housing and Economic Rights Advocates
Maine Center for Economic Policy
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
National Association for College Admission Counseling
National Association of Consumer Advocates
National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)
National Education Association
New America Higher Education Program
New York State Association for College Admission Counseling
Partnership for College Completion
Project on Predatory Student Lending
Public Citizen
Public Counsel
Public Good Law Center
Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM)
Public Law Center
Robert Shireman, Director of Higher Education Excellence, The Century Foundation
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Student Debt Crisis
Student Defense
Student Veterans of America
The Education Trust
The Institute for College Access & Success
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)
Veterans Education Success
Veterans for Common Sense
Woodstock Institute
Young Invincibles

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Guest Commentary | From birth to career, Illinois students deserve equitable, adequate education


January 31, 2021

By By Robin Steans, April Janney, Mimi Rodman, Kyle Westbrook and Diana Mendley Rauner - The News Gazzette

COVID-19 has upended the lives and education of children and young people throughout Illinois. As we enter 2021, we will need new ways of thinking and working to ensure our state's education system emerges from the pandemic able to serve kids better and more equitably.

As a first step, state funding and policies must extend beyond traditional silos — preschool, K-12 and higher education — and instead address our educational system as a single, interconnected journey that provides equitably and adequately for our students at every step.

All children and youth in Illinois deserve a high-quality education regardless of their race/ethnicity, ZIP code or family income. We know quality experiences, from birth through college, make a dramatic difference in one's success in school, career and life. Beyond this, a well-educated citizenry and workforce is vital for Illinois' economy, now more than ever.

Illinois has made significant strides in recent years in funding education. In K-12, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act has made Illinois a national leader. The new formula equitably distributes new state dollars each year, prioritizing the state's most underfunded districts. In early-childhood education and care, Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Early Childhood Funding Commission is poised to release recommendations that promise to illuminate a path to a more coordinated and equitable system of funding and governance.

In higher education, the Illinois Board of Higher Education and advocates are using data to expose barriers to college access and affordability for Illinois students

and are committed to redesigning and implementing an equitable, adequate funding structure going forward. While these gains are encouraging, they depend, in turn, on the state growing its investment in early childhood, public schools and higher education. Our educational investments benefit, in turn, on making access to stable housing, health care and nutrition a priority.

The state's push for equity is critical because the hard truth is Illinois' programs and schools do not provide equal access and quality for all children. Opportunity gaps start early and persist by race/ethnicity, income, home language and geography. Fewer than 1 in 3 kindergartners enters school "ready to learn," and only

35 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in reading.

While 85 percent of students graduate high school, only 53 percent of students go on to college. Despite the fact that the majority of employers need employees with more than a high school diploma, only a little more than half of Illinois residents hold a college degree or postsecondary credential.

Facing lean state budgets in recent years, funding for child care and early-education programs along with higher education has remained far from the levels needed and in some cases has been repeatedly cut or deprioritized.

Chronic underfunding threatens child development and stands in the way of young adults' college and career success. Worse, these actions disproportionately affect our low-income communities and communities of color.

Even before COVID-19, in early childhood, young children across the state lacked access to high-quality and affordable services. Many pockets of the state had and continue to have "child care deserts," and the industry struggles to recruit and retain a workforce that earns near-poverty-level wages.

Illinois' higher-education sector has been underfunded for a decade, leaving institutions no choice but to shut down programs, raise tuition and rely on out-of-state students' tuition. These practices have priced many Illinois students out of the market or decreased the number of opportunities available.

By no means left unscathed, prior to the passage of evidence-based funding in 2017, the K-12 public education system weathered years of deep cuts, as the practice of across-the-board reductions known as "proration" resulted in the largest losses of state funding for the state's highest-need school districts. While evidence-based funding has significantly bolstered K-12 funding, and done so with a strong equity focus, we still have a long way to go.

While the federal government has provided important short-term funding as a stopgap to help weather the current storm, the state has a critical role to play to ensure children and youth have equitable and adequate funding moving forward. That responsibility will be complicated by serious and ongoing fiscal challenges that have been exacerbated by a devastating health crisis.

As we plan for recovery and work to build a strong and healthy educational ecosystem, we hope and expect that the state will avoid supporting one part of the education continuum by slashing budgets in another part. This practice is misguided on its face, as students cannot develop and thrive without a strong overall system that will see them through from birth to career.

We see a future where all children have access to high-quality opportunities that will propel them through life. To achieve this, children from birth through college need policy makers and education partners to stand together for comprehensive and fair solutions so they can reach their full potential. The brighter their futures, the stronger our families and economy will be.

Robin Steans is president of Advance Illinois, April Janney is acting president and CEO of Illinois Action for Children, Mimi Rodman is executive director of Stand for Children Illinois, Kyle Westbrook is executive director of Partnership for College Completion and Diana Mendley Rauner, Ph.D., is president of Start Early.

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Illinois Is Reforming Developmental Education. Here's Why Advocates Say It's A Racial Equity Issue


January 19, 2021


Nearly half of Illinois high school grads who enroll full-time at a community college get placed in a developmental education course. That includes 70% of Black students and, of them, only 8% graduate compared to 26% of white students.

Those classes cost students tuition money and time, but don't count for credit towards a degree. Emily Goldman, with the Partnership for College Completion, helped lawmakers craft the Developmental Education Reform Act to address the issue.

The act is part of the Legislative Black Caucus' education reform bill which passed through the Illinois legislature during the lame duck session.

"We really believe we can't talk about advancing racial equity in Illinois higher education without talking about how we're going to reform our development education system," said Goldman.

She says community colleges over-rely on placement tests. That leads to over-placing Black students in those courses. The new plan allows students to show proficiency in other ways. They can get into college-level courses through high school GPA or transition classes.

"Forty-five community colleges will implement the traditional model at some level, despite its ineffectiveness," said Goldman. "When you hear that, and you know how it affects the rate of completion of college-level coursework -- I think it's pretty alarming."

Most students are still placed in the traditional model. Goldman says the most promising alternative is placing students in college-level courses with concurrent supports so their graduation isn't delayed.

In the current model, 18% of Black students in developmental math courses completed their first for-credit math class with a "C" or higher within three years. But with the alternative, Goldman says that jumps up to 69%.

The new proposal also requires colleges to submit plans for evidence-based developmental ed reforms, and issue reports on the results of their policy shifts over the next several years.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the plan into law.


This report was also featured on Tri States Public Radio ILLINOIS.

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IBHE Announces Members of New Strategic Planning Advisory Committee


January 13, 2021

By IBHE - My Radio Link

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Board of Higher Education is announcing the members of its Strategic Planning Advisory Committee, which will develop a draft plan to fulfill the board's which will lay out a set of strategies to achieve the board's vision and priorities. The plan aims to create an equitable, accessible and innovative higher education ecosystem across Illinois that ensures students and communities thrive.

"The members of the advisory committee bring expertise from education, business, policy, community, and philanthropic organizations to shape the blueprint for our students and our higher education ecosystem for the next 10 years," said IBHE Board Chair John Atkinson. "The members of the advisory committee will identify the highest-impact strategies to increase affordability, close equity gaps, and meet workforce needs. I am thrilled that this group has agreed to help us chart a course for higher education in Illinois."

The strategic plan is being crafted in cooperation with the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. It has garnered widespread public engagement so far, including the input from a survey of 10,000 people, 20 regional focus groups, and written comments. There will be room for more public engagement in each step of the process.

The committee will be co-chaired by:
Zaldwaynaka Scott, President, Chicago State University
Juan Salgado, Chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago
Illinois Senator Pat McGuire
Betsy Ziegler, CEO, 1871

"At each step in the process, we have invited input on how to ensure Illinois has an equitable, innovative and nimble higher education system. The advisory committee will help chart the path to get us there," explained IBHE Executive Director Ginger Ostro.

Co-Chair Zaldwaynaka Scott, president of Chicago State University, said, "I want to ensure that our higher education system makes the changes needed to alter the outcomes for students of color, because for too long they have been underserved. IBHE data will clearly tell us whether this new plan will make a difference."

"This new plan must address the importance of an aligned education system," said Co-Chair Juan Salgado, chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago. "Higher education needs to better serve the varied needs of our increasingly diverse, life-long learners, whether it be at two-year or four-year colleges and universities, public or private, or credential programs."

Co-Chair Sen. Pat McGuire, who chairs the Illinois Senate's Higher Education Committee, explained, "Illinois post-secondary students and institutions have demonstrated their commitment to education throughout the Great Recession, the two-year budget impasse, and the COVID-19 pandemic. It's time we acted with equal determination and laid plans for a higher education system that's fair to all students, all community colleges and universities, and all parts of the state."

Recognizing that the input and support of the business community is critical to this effort, 1871 CEO Betsy Ziegler will join the committee as a co-chair. "Employers know the nature of work is changing rapidly and that partnership with our higher education system is essential. Preparing students for jobs and civic life are critical to our companies and our economy, as is the innovation and research that come from a strong higher education system" she said. "We must work together to make sure we are investing in the needs of our collective future."

To stay up to date on IBHE's strategic planning process, visit the webpage.

The committee members are:
Darryl Arrington, DePaul University
Mara Botman, Circle of Service
Martha Burns, Oakton Community College
Tanya Cabera, University of Illinois Chicago
Brent Clark, Illinois Association of School Administrators
Jim Coleman, Accenture
Marlon Cummings, Governors State University, IBHE Faculty Advisory Committee
Mona Davenport, Illinois Committee on Black Concerns in Higher Education
Julia diLliberti, Illinois Community College Faculty Assoc.
Cherita Ellens, Women Employed
Lisa Freeman, Northern Illinois University
Sameer Gadkaree, The Joyce Foundation
Dave Hanson, EOA Consulting LLC
Lauren Harris, ISU, IBHE Student Advisory Committee
Pranav Kothari, IBHE Board
Jack Lavin, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce
David Lett, Illinois State Board of Education Member
Daniel Lopez, Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education
Nivine Megahed, National Louis University
Paige Ponder, One Million Degrees
Teresa Ramos, Action for Children
Jim Reed, Illinois Community College Trustees Association
Jonah Rice, Southeastern Illinois College
Amanda Smith, Rock Valley Community College
Audrey Soglin, Illinois Education Association
Samiha Syed, College of DuPage, ICCB Student Advisory Committee
Jose Torres, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
Charlotte Warren, Lincoln Land Community College
Simón Weffer-Elizondo, Illinois Federation of Teachers
Kyle Westbrook, Partnership for College Completion


This report was also featured on River Bend.

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