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.

Access and Affordability Limiting Equitable College Enrollment, Achievement in Chicago Region


JUL 18, 2019​
Ashmar Mandou - Lawndale News

College enrollment and completion in the Chicago area is being limited by access and cost issues tied to race, family wealth and income, and the availability of financial aid, according to a new report released today by the Partnership for College Completion (PCC). The report, College-Going and Completion in the Chicago Area: A Regional Analysis, breaks ground in examining enrollment, attainment, and completion in the seven-county metropolitan Chicago area, using a number of sources including a unique regional analysis of data from financial aid applicants. The report finds that despite a diverse pool of more than 70,000 college-going applicants from this region every year, more than 40 percent of whom are Black or Latino, the local four-year public universities together produced only 2,600 degrees for students of color in 2017. PCC urges administrators, educators and policymakers to prioritize higher education access and affordability with a concentration on equity to ensure the future prosperity of the region and state.

College-Going and Completion in the Chicago Area focuses on the students from and attending college in the Midwest's hub of economic opportunity, where two decades of state disinvestment in students and institutions has affected the seven-county region's 54 public and private nonprofit two- and four-year colleges and the 319,000 undergraduate students they enroll. As a result, the report finds high prices for four-year colleges and declining numbers of students attending college in the region or deciding not to pursue higher education at all, together underscoring the challenge of wide access to high-quality postsecondary opportunities. The report proposes bold equity-focused policy ideas that include: revising college admissions standards to increase the weight of GPA over ACT/SAT test scores, which disadvantage low-income students and students of color; restoring full funding of the Monetary Award Program (MAP), which provides grants to low-income students and now covers only two-thirds of the cost of attendance at community colleges and one-third of the cost at public universities for less than half of eligible students; and, stopping the flow of state aid to for-profit colleges.

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Report Highlights Higher Ed Inequity In Chicagoland


JUL 17, 2019​

Even with Chicagoland students in the same income range, white students have a much greater chance of getting a degree than students of color.

That's according to a new report from the non-profit Partnership for College Completion. The group just released a report highlighting college access and success disparities in northern Illinois.

It finds gaps exist regardless of academics and have more to do with race and family income levels.

More than 70,000 college-goers applied for financial aid in the region in 2017. More than 40% were black or Latino. But in that year, students of color received fewer than 3,000 degrees at local public four-year universities.

The report recommends institutional changes at schools like remedial education and advising reforms, and also policies like increases in need-based financial aid -- especially because of the first-come first-served nature of MAP grants.

"This absolutely has a disproportionate impact on students who are the first in their family to go to college, of course, low-income students, and students who are attending high schools that aren't as well equipped to make sure that students know how to complete FAFSA and know that they have to complete it very early," said Lisa Castillo Richmond, Managing Director of the PCC.

According to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, over 100,000 Illinois students every year who are eligible for MAP funding receive nothing.

The report also talks about Illinois' issues with students leaving the state for college.

"We are also concerned about the students that are applying for financial aid and applying to college and then at the time of matriculation or are not showing up at any institution, whether it's inside or outside of the state," said Castillo Richmond. "And we think of this as the more acute challenge for the state."

Among FAFSA-filing students, white students are the most likely to leave while Latino students are by far the least likely to leave the state.

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NSC Postsecondary Data Partnership - Update


NSC has updated the data intake file process for the Postsecondary Data Partnership and has asked us to make sure all our institutions are aware. Some of the most consistent feedback NSC has received from the pilot institutions regarding the submission process is that the method in which Terms are defined in the questionnaire and then referenced in the data file and dashboards can be confusing. This had lead to complications and sometimes multiple conversations with PDP Service. We have updated this process to alleviate these concerns. In the Data Intake File that you will use for data submission in September 2019, the PDP will both standardize the terms and directly collect the respective term dates in the data files.

NSC has published an update to the Submission Guide that highlights this change on the PDP Website. Please remember that these new data intake files will be the only valid file format starting in September submission. As you get started coding for your data for submission, please refer to the updated Submission Guide and new data intake file templates.

If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you are still working on getting the agreement signed for your institution, keep in mind that while your data submission window will open in September, NSC should receive your signed agreements as soon as possible.

Please remember to copy Lisa Castillo Richmond at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. when submitting your signed forms to the NSC.

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Meet Nick Branson, College of Lake County

Friday, 07 June 2019

What is your role at the College of Lake County?
I have served as the Assistant Director of Institutional Effectiveness, Planning, & Research at CLC since 2012. As CLC works to centralize and institutionalize our student success work, I will be serving as the Assistant Director of Student Success Strategy and leading a newly formed Student Success Team.

How did your college/university support your success in earning your degree(s)?

I feel very fortunate for the higher education experiences I have had, but my experience was not without challenges that many students face in finding a path and navigating a complex system. I entered Loyola University Chicago as a first-generation college student, uncertain of whether it was a good fit for me or what career path I would want to pursue. I chose it primarily because I was offered a much-needed scholarship to attend, but am very grateful for the wonderful educational experience that followed. When I found my passion in studying sociology, poverty, and urban issues, I also found faculty members who were not only great instructors, but great promoters of experiential learning opportunities. It was through my instructors that I learned about studying abroad, an internship opportunity, and a community-based research fellowship. These were life-changing experiences for me that motivated me to complete my Bachelor's degree and find work that benefits my community. Without the faculty connecting me to these opportunities, I would have never found them and am not sure where my path would have led. I completed a Master's in Social Sciences at University of Chicago next, and now several years later am working to complete a Ph.D. in Research Methodology back at Loyola. Today, I find support at Loyola, but also am grateful for the great support I have from my colleagues at CLC as I continue on my educational path.

What excites you about equity work at your institution?
I am always excited to be closely connected to the equity work at CLC. For me, the ultimate reason we do this work is what excites me. The ability to leverage educational experiences we provide as a community college to truly improve the lives of our community members is a huge motivator. I am passionate about the role we play, and that education in general plays, in addressing social and economic inequities.

With the current work at CLC, I am also most excited that we will be applying an equity lens to the broad, institutional improvements we plan so that we can impact the most students. It is important for us to use evidence of inequity to identify, design, and implement full-scale, personalized, and culturally-relevant strategies. We want to focus on systemic changes that will benefit all of our students, and especially our underserved students. As we take this approach, our equity work is not separate from, but rather becomes our student success work.

In your role, how do you impact equitable outcomes for your students?
In my background in institutional effectiveness, I have served to voice the data stories of our students' experiences from an equity perspective. Starting with our data has been a critical step to helping the college community understand and see the disparities in outcomes across racial-ethnic groups, age groups, gender, socio-economic status, and other categories. We have also collected data to assess our efforts and determine how they are or are not working for students of different backgrounds. As a researcher, I find that it is also important to directly experience the programs and hear the students' voices so I work to observe programs and lead focus groups with students to more thoroughly understand our work. Evaluating what we do is a critical process to finding what is working and modifying what is not so that we can have the greatest impact on our students' success.

It is not enough, though, to simply communicate the data about our students. Our outcomes compel us to take action, and I am excited to be working with our ILEA team and Student Success Team to develop strategies based on our evidence. My biggest impact for our students' success will not be through building awareness, but through partnering with faculty, staff, and leaders at CLC to leverage data in the process of creating an environment where all of our students can succeed.

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SAT's Adversity Index and the limitations of standardized tests in assessing students potential for college success

​Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The College Board, which markets and sells the SAT, announced last week that it will release an "adversity index" that it has been testing for the past several years, to all colleges by 2020. This index aims to put students' academic achievements into the context of where they lived and attended high school. This measure of relative advantage or disadvantage will be available to admissions counselors at the colleges to which students apply, though not to students themselves. This new measure, while well intended, highlights the limitations of standardized tests in assessing students potential for college success.

In promoting the new measure, the College Board admits that a standardized test cannot fully gauge a student's potential and that in admission decisions, context matters. The stated goal of the "disadvantage level" is to help colleges identify resourceful students who have persevered in the face of adversity. Other than one example, however, the College Board has not detailed how the score should be used to contextualize SAT scores to improve equity in admissions decisions.

Moreover, it is unclear how the adversity score could correct either the deeper issues underlying how college admissions are affected by the adversity they seek to identify, or even the immediate issues that use of this test has created. This new measure, like the use of the SAT in scholarship and remediation decisions, could also have unintended consequences that negatively affect the students it claims to help.

Many studies show that the SAT is not as predictive of college performance as high school GPA, and that standardized test scores more closely correlate to family income and parents' education levels. For example, one study shows a 400-point gap between the highest and lowest-income test-takers. Large racial gaps also persist -- In Illinois, black and Latino students averaged 924 and 969 composite scores, respectively, compared to 1,113 for whites and 1,202 for Asian test takers. Drawing on these disparities, critics of the SAT have long argued that the test reflects and exacerbates racial and socioeconomic inequities. By leaning in on the adversity score, the College Board seems to agree. So, it raises the question: if a college really wants to bring equity in admissions across the diversity of postsecondary institutions, and measures like high school GPA are more predictive of college performance and graduation, why use the SAT at all?

Of course, the College Board would not recommend discontinuing use of the SAT, which added more than 130,000 Illinois test takers in scaling last year. However that idea is gaining traction, as a growing number of institutions are implementing test-optional admissions. This practice was recently adopted by the University of Chicago, for example, showing that this practice can be viable for institutions of any selectivity level. Early results from nearly 30 colleges show that moving away from standardized tests like the SAT can de-emphasize measures that correlate strongly with wealth and race, giving low-income students and students of color more access to institutions that lead to greater economic opportunity.

By including adversity scores along with test results, the College Board is essentially acknowledging the SAT's role in perpetuating inequity in college admissions, but it passes responsibility for actual change on to colleges and universities. Institutions should seize this opportunity to deemphasize standardized tests altogether in favor of measures, like high school GPA, which are more predictive and can increase access and equity in college admissions decisions.

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Prioritizing Equity in Postsecondary Education for Chicago’s Students

​Monday, 20 May 2019

To: Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot
Re: Prioritizing Equity in Postsecondary Education for Chicago's Students

Who We Are
The Partnership for College Completion (PCC) is a non-profit organization aimed at eliminating state and institutional achievement gaps in college degree completion for low-income and first generation students and students of color in the seven-county region in and surrounding Chicago by 2025.

Policy Recommendations to Help Close College Achievement Gaps

Governance and Finance

  • Establish a community college equity council and taskforce on funding and partnerships
  • Maintain a diverse and equity-minded Board for City Colleges of Chicago (CCC)
  • Advocate for state-level funding formula change

Expand CPS institutional framework for addressing inequity to CCC
Similar to the equity council and ensuing policy statement that the Mayor-elect's campaign outlined for CPS, a community college equity council could provide crucial guidance for the direction of City Colleges of Chicago (CCC). Further, to secure additional resources and partnerships needed for our students, the Mayor's Office should regularly convene a funding and partnerships taskforce of community college representatives, students, non-profit advocacy organizations, and members of Chicago's business and philanthropic communities.

Diverse and equity-minded CCC Board of Trustees
CCC serves all of the City and much of the State's public 2-year students, many of whom are low-income and more than 70% of whom are Black or Latino, and the current board is relatively representative of its student population. New members must continue to reflect the diversity of CCC's campuses and have a strong understanding of how to best serve a diverse student body.

Advocate for state-level funding formula change
The current funding formula for community colleges does not adequately factor in equity and requires an additional $13 million in funding irrespective of formula just to achieve its baseline level. For CCC to succeed, it needs for Illinois to have a more equitable, sustainable, and evidence-driven community college funding formula. The Mayor's Office, perhaps through the aforementioned taskforce, should make recommendations to the General Assembly and Governor's Office about funding formula changes that bring equitable funding to CCC.

Human Capital

Retain CCC Chancellor Juan Salgado and CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson
In their short time leading Chicago's education systems, both CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson and CCC Chancellor Juan Salgado have championed initiatives aimed at improving equity and transparency and have been laser-focused on improving student outcomes at every stage of the education pipeline. Retaining and supporting Chicago's equity-minded leaders, and their initiatives, is a critical first step to maintaining momentum towards closing Chicago's equity gaps in high school and college completion.

Student Supports

  • Make scaling co-requisite remediation a top priority for CCC
  • Reevaluate Star Scholarship program criteria
  • Scale transitional math implementation

Make scaling co-requisite remediation an immediate, top priority for CCC
Developmental education, or remediation, is one of the greatest college completion barriers and equity issues facing Chicago. Developmental education classes costs students time and money and do not count toward degree completion. Black and Latino students are disproportionately represented in developmental courses, and of those who enroll in developmental coursework, only 9% of Black students and 16% of Latino students will graduate, compared to 25% of their White peers. About 12,000 City Colleges students were placed into developmental education in FY17, and fewer advanced to take a college-level class (33%) than decided not to come back the next year (51%). Co-requisite remediation is a method of development education that doubles or triples rates of students passing college-level courses by enabling them to take credit-bearing courses as soon as they get to college, while providing them with in-time support. City Colleges can implement at scale, and in doing so help thousands more students persist, and ultimately transfer or graduate from CCC, but to do so, reform must be a clear, high priority.

Reevaluate STAR Scholarship criteria for equity
The Star Scholarship is a driving force behind the improved outcomes and enrollment stability at CCC. More importantly, it offers college access and opportunity to our most under-served and under-resourced student groups. This opportunity should not be limited to students who have achieved a 3.0 and a certain threshold on standardized tests. Expanding Star scholarships will increase enrollment at CCC and ultimately improve the pipeline that runs from CPS graduation to economic opportunity in Chicago.

Scale transitional math implementation
Every year, nearly 46% of Illinois high school graduates and 61% of CPS students who enroll in community college in the state are placed into developmental education. In 2016, Governor Rauner signed the Postsecondary Workforce and Readiness (PWR) Act, designed to bridge K-12 and postsecondary institutions, including four strategies aimed at helping students become college and career ready. One such strategy is transitional math instruction, which empowers high schools and community colleges to enter into a partnership to help high school students with math readiness needs. If successfully implemented, transitional math will decrease the number of Illinois' high school graduates who are placed in remediation and improve college-level course pass rates. So far about a dozen schools are already implementing transitional math, and more are looking into expanding this initiative. For the City to position itself as a leader in college readiness, scaling transitional math and English within CPS and at charter schools must be a priority that the new administration drives.

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Illinois Equity in Attainment: Member Spotlight

Meet Dr. Lisa Petrov, Dominican University

What is your role at Dominican University?
Right now I am the Title V Project Director. Our project is "Strengthening Advising, Teacher Education and Our HSI Identity." Normally I am faculty in Spanish, and I teach a freshman seminar. I arrived at Dominican in 2008, just at the cusp of it becoming eligible for Department of Education HSI status. Over the years I've had the honor of working with many of our Latinx students closely, both in and outside of the classroom. I've seen them accomplish amazing things and I have continuously been inspired by their grit and resilience.

How did your college and universities support your success in earning your degrees?
My journey of success in attaining a BA at Oberlin College, an MA in Latin American Studies from Tulane University, and an MA and PhD in Spanish from UW-Madison (specializing in colonial literature) was a long and circuitous one. I arrived at Oberlin at a complete loss for what to do; I had thought I was headed for a medical career while at the Bronx HS of Science; but a summer volunteering in a hospital made clear that I was not suited to the field. I opted for a Spanish major because I wanted to travel, and there are so many Spanish-speaking countries from which to choose! Oberlin helped me succeed by not getting in my way and being a place where radicals are ordinary. However, due to a disastrous first semester freshman year, after four years I left Oberlin eight credits short of the total I needed to graduate! It took me three years to have a job with a schedule that allowed me to take classes. I finally completed my credit hour obligations, thanks to Hunter College (CUNY). I did not return to school for my graduate education until I knew what I wanted to do professionally. Teaching immigrant HS students new to NYC put me on the education path; simultaneously a side gig translating in Guatemala opened the Latin American world to me. Together they led me to Tulane and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The story gets too long from here! Suffice it to say, it was a journey with the occasional detour and roadblock.

What excites you about equity work at your institution?
Everything excites me about equity work at Dominican. Part of our university mission is to actively participate in the creation of a more just and humane world. I have taken it to heart and made it my mission to do everything I can to work on my small corner of higher education. In doing equity work at DU I get excited to see students succeed who otherwise might not. When I can be instrumental in getting them more access to better support systems (which actually provide them with what they need) I get super excited! It motivates me to see faculty colleagues learn to be more inclusive and culturally responsive practitioners. I get excited to be part of creating systems that help staff understand that equity is not treating everyone exactly the same! The simple act of educating folks to the important differences between equality and equity is exciting to me.

In your role, how do you impact equitable outcomes for your students?
Everything I do in my role as Title V Project Director should impact equitable outcomes for students at Dominican—so I keep that foremost in my mind as I make decisions about how to expend federal funds ($550K/year) and best implement our project to meet the objectives of each part (many of which are precisely to eliminate equity gaps). Title V funding for HSI development is about strengthening the institution and enabling it to better serve all of its students, but especially its low-income and Hispanic students. Dominican's Latinx students experience equity gaps compared to white students; our African American students suffer the most serious equity gaps. Half of all of our students are Pell grant eligible; but not all equity gaps are a result of scarce financial resources. One of my early decisions was to invest in faculty development and focus on increasing inclusive and culturally responsive practices in undergraduate classes. To me it seemed clear that all students would benefit from redesigned gateway courses across the university. The grant sponsored a Faculty Learning Community that is just wrapping up from last summer, with faculty participants from three of our four schools. Recently a participating science professor said to me that his teaching has been forever changed by the process. I want to leverage him, and the others who also saw positive results in their students' academic performance in the fall 2018 class they redesigned, to bring even more faculty on board. All this should positively impact equitable outcomes for students as more faculty renew, refresh and share with colleagues their more inclusive pedagogical practices. I am hoping to help promote a faculty culture of continuous improvement. As we say in Spanish, ojalá.

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2019 ILEA Spring Summit

​April 15, 2019

On Thursday, April 11th, the first annual ILEA Spring Summit was held at the Northern Illinois University Naperville campus where over 180 staff, faculty and administrators from the ILEA cohort convened to hear from a number of institutions engaged in equity best practice work and engage and connect with one another. After a warm welcome from NIU President Dr. Lisa Freeman and NIU Trustee Veronica Herrero, attendees heard keynote presentations from Dr. Timothy Renick of Georgia State University and Dr. Frank Harris III, co-director of the Community College Equity Assessment Lab at San Diego State University. The morning and afternoon breakouts offered the opportunity to attend presentations on a number of strategy topics, including remediation reform, development of equity-minded professional development for faculty and staff, making the business case for student success and exploring institutional data. The full agenda for the ILEA Spring Summit, along with presentations and additional information provided by our presenters is currently available on the new ILEA portal website. Thank you to all our presenters and participants!
Click here to read the press about the summit.

Thank you to Moraine Valley Community College and Northeastern Illinois University who will be hosting the ILEA Summits in 2019-2020. Please save the date for the the Fall and Spring Summits!

  • Fall Summit, October 30, 2019 at Moraine Valley Community College

  • Spring Summit, March 31, 2020 at Northeastern Illinois University

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NSC Postsecondary Data Partnership

At the Spring Summit, it was announced that the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Postsecondary Data Partnership will be the mechanism by which ILEA colleges and universities share data with the PCC as part of the Initiative. The Postsecondary Data Partnership is a new effort administered through NSC to help colleges and universities more efficiently gain a fuller picture of student momentum, progress and outcomes, meet various reporting requirement, and focus more of their resources on using their data to help students. As the data shared through the Postsecondary Data Partnerships mirrors reporting for ILEA, there will be no additional or supplemental data that institutions will be required to provide outside of NSC, as had been originally communicated to each team.

ILEA core team and Institutional Research colleagues have been sent detailed information and required documents for sign-off, which are also now available on the ILEA web portal and through the link below. For purposes of this partnership, the PCC is the 3rd party that each ILEA institution will give permission for the NSC to share disaggregated data with. Through the link below, you will find all of the forms that need to be reviewed and signed by each institution as the first step in this process, which include:

  1. Addendum to your current agreement with the NSC
  2. RT addendum if your college/university would like to participate in reverse transfer
  3. PDP 3rd Party authorizes NSC to share data with 3rd parties (name PCC)
  4. Exhibit B gives authorization to the 3rd parties (name PCC) to have access to the aggregated data dashboards; Exhibit C gives authorization to the 3rd parties (name PCC) for de-identified individual analysis ready file.

Download the Forms Here

Access PDP website
View video tutorials of PDP data dashboards

Please submit forms to Michelle Blackwell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with Lisa Castillo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. on copy by June 1. While NSC recommends institutions submit 3-5 years of baseline data, PCC is encouraging ILEA institutions to submit at least 3 years of baseline data before the current reporting period closes in June. ILEA members who submit all signed forms and submit at least three years of historical data will be eligible to participate in a workshop with their data in the NSC dashboards at the 2019 ILEA Fall Summit. Additionally, those institutions will be entered into a drawing for a contribution (of at least $1,500) to your Student Emergency Fund. Please let your PCC Program Manager know if you plan to submit by the June 27th deadline or if you will submit in September.

A recording of the May 9th webinar about the details of this partnership will soon be available in the ILEA Portal.

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Illinois P-20 Council Equity Targets Webinar

In 2018, the Illinois Legislature passed SR 1647 and HR 1017, which direct the Illinois P-20 Council to acknowledge the significant disparities in college completion and postsecondary attainment rates for low-income and first generation college students and students of color across Illinois, and to update the State's postsecondary attainment goal "to include equity-focused targets aimed at closing institutional racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps." The P-20 Council directed its College and Career Readiness Committee to take on this task. The CCR Committee has since convened workgroups comprising of over 80 diverse representatives to develop a framework for the targets, analyze data on postsecondary enrollment and completion, identify approaches for stakeholder engagement, and explore institutional and statewide strategies to achieve the targets and close gaps across the groups of interest.

On Thursday, May 30th at 12pm, join Emily Rusca, Director of State Policy and Strategy at Education Systems Center who will be sharing updates from the Equity Targets Workgroup with ILEA institutions, as well as soliciting feedback from ILEA institutions on their insights as they have gone through the process of developing their Equity Plans. In particular, Education Systems Center hopes to understand what potential State policy windows or incentives might help reduce barriers and incentivize successful interventions at the institutional level in order to drive more equitable postsecondary attainment.

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NIU primed to tackle racial and economic inequities in graduation rates


APR 24, 2019
- NIU Today (Print​)

Identifying equity as a top priority, NIU aims to close graduation gaps for students of color, first-generation college-goers and low-income students.

University leaders, including NIU President Lisa Freeman, recently joined representatives from 25 community colleges and universities throughout northern Illinois as part of the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative led by the Partnership for College Completion. The group met at NIU's Naperville campus.

They came together to share information and brainstorm ways to address achievement gaps prevalent in Illinois and throughout the country.

Working to create a campus-wide ILEA Equity plan, NIU is primed to tackle the issue, say those involved.

Closing the gap requires an institutional effort, said NIU Senior Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Vernese Edghill-Walden, Ph.D., as opposed to the creation of a single program.

"You can have all the strategies in the world, but if you never change your institutional culture those strategies will fail," she said. "We have to change our culture. I think we're moving in that direction, but we have a lot more to do."

Evaluating graduation equity rates even before joining the initiative, NIU has made strides the past four years, leaders say.

NIU's Strategic Enrollment Management Plan spells out the university's commitment to be a leader in the area of equitable access for students from diverse backgrounds. Among the plan's many objectives is to clearly identify gaps and create comprehensive plans to reduce them.

Working with fellow educators can only enhance that effort, NIU leaders say.

"The conference confirmed for me we have all of the ingredients to achieve at that level and to get our institution to where we need to go," said Renique Kersh, Ph.D., associate vice provost for Student Engagement and Success.

According to a 2017 Partnership for College Completion report, 33 percent of African American students who start at four-year institutions earn bachelor's degrees within six years—a rate 32.7 percentage points below that of their white peers. For Latinos, 49 percent are earning degrees, a gap of 17 percentage points. Only 37 percent of low-income students graduate in six years compared to 75 percent of wealthier students.

The ILEA Initiative calls for 60% of Illinois residents to achieve earned degrees by 2025.

NIU was among the only institution at the recent summit with members of its Board of Trustees in attendance.

"It spoke to the commitment not only of our president, who was asked to speak, but also our trustees committed to this project," Kersh said.

A first-generation college student and the daughter of Mexican immigrants, NIU Trustee Veronica Herrero of Chicago spoke at the event about the critical need for all trustees to understand what equity in higher education means and how it impacts the long-term sustainability of institutions.

Herrero told the crowd President Freeman has weaved equity and inclusion work into every aspect of the university.

"Addressing equity gaps, student success outcomes of our black and brown students, and improving inclusive practices and cultural competence in and out of the classroom are all board level, presidential goals that we help President Freeman to champion," she said.

As part of efforts to create an ILEA Equity Plan and assess its strengths and areas in need of improvement, NIU recently sent out an Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool survey to faculty, staff and administrators. Of the 25 institutions in the ILEA, NIU received the largest survey response, with about 300 respondents, Edghill-Walden said.

Coming soon, the survey results identified a need for a clear definition of what equity means at NIU, as well as increased communication of the work being done to close graduation gaps, Edghill-Walden said. Similar to the way in which NIU recently updated its mission, the plan is to engage the university community to create that definition, she said. 

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Knowles: GSU diversity chief targets graduation rates

Knowles: GSU diversity chief targets graduation rates

APR 22, 2019
- Chicago Tribune (DAILY SOUTHTOWN​)

As a Brooklyn College student in the 1980s, concerns about racial unrest and inequities prompted Corey Williams, who is black, to join a fraternity that was predominantly white.

He said his goal was to help dismantle stereotypes and foster understanding at the New York City school.

Today, Williams said he is continuing a similar mission. Williams, who since developed mentoring programs targeting minority first-generation students at several colleges, was recently named the chief diversity officer at Governors State University in University Park, a first for the school.

"Rather than being on the sidelines viewing equity issues, we thought why not tackle equity issues within our own institution and be a model for other institutions across the state," said Williams, 48, who also serves as GSU's associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

He said he wants to decrease achievement gaps for first generation students of color, particularly black and Latino students at GSU, where among its 4,857 students 38.4 percent are African-American and 13 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

"We are working with a group of 25 colleges and universities across the state through a partnership, Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative," he said. "It is an initiative through the Partnership for College Completion. It is 25 colleges and universities across the state that have the focus of decreasing those achievement gaps over the next five years."

Among the students targeted in the effort are African-Americans, Latinos, students receiving Pell grants, first-generation students and students with disabilities, he said.

He noted in 2014-15, retention from junior year to senior year for junior African-American transfer students at GSU was 67% compared to all transfer students at 72%.

"We aim to increase retention for all students, but also aim to close this gap by 2020," he said. "We have reduced the equity gap for the retention of African-American transfer students from 5.1 percentage points in 2014-2015 to 3.7 percentage points in 2016-2017."

Among factors contributing to achievement gaps are unique challenges some students face, he said.

It's important to understand "that some of our students come from traumatic experiences and how trauma bleeds into their education," he said. "By trauma, I mean (hunger), housing insecurities, dealing with violence at home, single-parent households, gang violence, those issues bleed into what tends to happen when they enter (college)."

He added first-generation students who make up roughly 42% of GSU undergraduates, also face unique challenges, including that they and their parents often don't know how to navigate the higher education system and perform such tasks as completing financial aid applications and advocating for themselves.

"These are things we have to teach," he said.

How should disparity issues be addressed?

"Having support systems in place to support students is absolutely key," Williams said. "There are (federal) program grants for low-income, first-generation or students with disabilities to help. We are planning to submit for five grants through that process. I think each would bring in about $220,000 per year for five years."

The grants would fund support mechanisms for the students, including increased advising, peer coaching and wrap-around services to aid in their college completion, Williams said.

"Each grant would support 100 to 150 students," he added. "We would focus on students with disabilities, traditional students, veteran students, students looking to go into education and students pursuing STEM careers or the health career field."

Williams said he also plans to conduct "a climate survey to get a sense of what's going on at GSU, how students feel, how faculty and staff feel, perhaps having listening circles with them to find out issues that are very important to them that need to be addressed right away."

Williams, who has a master's degree in higher education from Chicago State University, has nearly two decades of experience working in leadership and administration in higher education positions, including at Triton College in River Grove, where he served as dean of student services and Title IX coordinator. There he founded and implemented Triton Men Pursuing Higher Education, a multifaceted mentoring program that aided in the recruitment, retention and graduation of minority males, he said.

"We worked with minority men, primarily African-American and Latino men," he said. "We provided wrap-around services. Each male was paired with a mentor at the institution or an alumni. They would meet one to two times a month and collectively as a group once a week, and the young men served as mentors to middle and high school students to create a pipeline because for many of our first-generation students, particularly men of color, they lack that role model. So, it's important for them to see people who look like them doing things they aspire to do.

"With the first . . . 25 students, all graduated in a two-year period," he said, noting, "at some community colleges, the graduation rate for men of color is about 7 percent. The fact that we were able to do what we did was astounding. The model is being discussed at different conferences around the country."

The program expanded to Elgin Community College and Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, he said. He added at Triton, a similar women of color mentoring program also was developed, and he is looking to bring that to GSU.

Asked what lessons about diversity he wants GSU graduates to take with them into their careers and life, he replied, "GSU is reflective of our society, the makeup of the institution. It's about respecting everyone's beliefs, their background, their ideologies. That's very important to me. It's important for students as a whole to know how to navigate the nuances they're going to face once they leave GSU."

Communication is key to fostering a culture of respect and understanding, he said. Williams, who at age 9 emigrated from Panama to New York with his mother, has long held that belief.

That's what prompted him to join Zeta Beta Tau, a predominantly Jewish and white fraternity while he attended Brooklyn College. His decision to do so followed the high-profile death in 1986 in New York of Michael Griffith, a 23-year-old New York City resident, who died after being struck by a car as he fled a mob of angry white teens. That experience and other racial tensions had a profound effect on Williams, who recalled racial tensions were high in the city and at the college.

"For me it was difficult to understand why something as simple as the color of a person's skin would create barriers from getting people to truly know one another," he said. "It was something I couldn't get. As a child in central and south America, what I saw as an issue was more classism as opposed to racism, so this was very vexing to me, something I wanted to understand better, to create conversations to bring about understanding."

So, he decided to join Zeta Beta Tau, he said. Chapter members spent time with his family and in his home, and he spent time with theirs. He later became chapter president, he said.

"I learned a lot about the Jewish faith, and I was able to dismantle some preconceived notions that people may have had about black men," he said.

In order to dismantle stereotypes and foster and maintain a culture of respect at GSU, it's important to have "honest conversations, courageous conversations and safe conversations, to not hold things back but discuss things in a productive way, to create that safe space for people to seek understanding," he said.

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College Student Success Gaps Persist. How Can Schools Close Them?

College Student Success Gaps Persist. How Can Schools Close Them?

April 17, 2019


This past week, leaders from community colleges and universities across northern Illinois met to brainstorm how to close college completion gaps based on race and income level.

Over 20 schools joined with the Partnership for College Completion (PCC) to launch the "Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative" last year. The schools share what works for them, and the PCC helps them orchestrate a plan unique to their schools and give them more information about the reality of the equity issue.

Lisa Castillo-Richmond is the Partnership's managing director. She says the gaps in Illinois mostly mirror those seen across the country. However, there are aspects of the issue where Illinois stands out.

"We are a significant outlier, I would say in terms of the gap between white students completing college degrees and African American students," she said. "In six years from a four-year institution, white students will graduate at a rate of 66 percent while African American students are graduating and about half that rate at 33 percent. And these gaps also exist across other races and ethnicities."

Organizers say it was essential for their initiative to be made up of a diverse group of schools -- two and four-year; big and small, public and private -- in order to show how gaps persisted everywhere.

"We really wanted to move away from the fallacy that says if you just get students into the right institution, everyone is graduating at these equitable and high rates, because we saw these gaps across all types of institutions," said Castillo-Richmond.

They all faced the same problem. For some, the disparity was six or eight percent. For others, it could exceed 10 or even 20 percent.

And why did they want to meet now? Across the state, in aggregate, the gaps weren't getting better and in some cases, they were widening.

The event was held at Northern Illinois University's Naperville campus. Lisa Freeman is the president of NIU.

"What we're saying is, it's really the responsibility of the university to meet the students that we accept where they are," Freeman said, "and to recognize that sometimes when a student doesn't succeed, it's not on them, it's actually on us, on the systems we've created that are serving our students poorly."

She says NIU was looking at their graduation equity rate even before they joined the initiative. But it's been easier to start acting on it since the end of the budget impasse.

"They weren't data that we were proud of," Freeman said. "We wanted to erase the gap that achieved for students who come from lower-income families, and for students of color. And we knew that to do that we needed to make a radical change."

For NIU, that's meant making sure students have support during their financial aid process, and raising awareness for academic resources. They've also seen through their PROMISE Scholars Program, how research can help connect students -- especially students of color -- to their campus and increase their odds of retention.

Confronting and analyzing equity data has been a key part of the plan at Wilbur-Wright College. They're a two-year school and one of the City Colleges of Chicago. David Potash is the president.

He said their plan has been in effect for a few years now. They've been deciphering where student success gaps are happening, so they can home in on the sources of the problem.

"That means that you got to look at the data all the time because you make one change and then there are consequences, some positive, some negative, you make another change," said Potash.

Wilbur-Wright's population is two-thirds Hispanic. One improvement area they found was with Hispanic female biology students. They saw those students were dropping out close to when they should have been finishing their programs. To help fix that, they assigned students farther along in the program to peer mentor students with less experience.

"And with a little bit of peer mentoring what we found, not a ton of work, the number of Latino females in the biology sequence increased when they were falling through at a relatively low billable rate," Potash said. "I mean, this is not rocket science, but it's looking at the data, finding people who are motivated together and care, and then you make a change."

Schools are also using technology to close the completion gap. The keynote speaker at the NIU-Naperville event was Tim Renick of Georgia State University. He spoke about his school's success with using an chatbot to answer common questions from incoming freshmen, anything from FAFSA to housing.

"We had students repeatedly tell us they asked the chat box questions they wouldn't have asked a human being," said Renick. "If you can't get your biological father to sign the FAFSA because you haven't seen him for the last two years, you don't necessarily want to go into some stranger's office and spill out your personal family history."

NIU President Freeman also has plans to implement a similar chatbot while they continue to teach their faculty and staff how to have conversations about equity.

"Nobody wants to inadvertently send a student the message that maybe this isn't for you," she said. "But people need to learn when they do those kinds of things unconsciously."

Aside from the individual school plans, the PCC is promoting policies at the state level to alleviate some of the pressure.

Currently, they're focusing on policies to overhaul the way higher education handles remedial courses, to get students college-ready.

Castillo-Richmond says with so many schools buying into the initiative there's still plenty colleges can do, even without extra aid coming from Springfield.

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PCC’s Response to Governor Pritzker’s First Budget Address

Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Increasing MAP by $50 Million: A Good Start to Supporting Low-Income Students

Today, the Governor pledged an additional $50 million for the state's Monetary Award Program (MAP), bringing total funding to around $450 million. This recommendation falls short of the State's higher education agencies' (IBHE, ICCB, as well as ISAC) requested $100 million increase; however, if part of a multi-year ramp up to ensuring all eligible students receive a MAP award, the additional $50 million appropriation is a significant first step toward reinvesting in Illinois students for whom this support determines if they can attend college at all.

In 2002, MAP covered 100% of tuition and fees for all eligible applicants. Today, more than 100,000 eligible applicants are denied funding each year, and for those lucky enough to receive it, MAP covers just 33% of tuition and fees. For the future of Illinois' students, workforce, and diverse economy, our first priority must be for all eligible students to be served without cutting funding levels. We project that a 65% increase (or $260 million increase) in current funding would both fund all applicants at current levels and at least keep up with increasing applications for the program. This additional $50 million proposed in the Governor's address today will serve about 15,000 more students -- a commendable first step, but one which will likely still leave more than 80,000 eligible applicants without funds.The Governor ran on a platform of a 50% increase in MAP funding, and we hope today's proposed 12.5% increase is the first step towards delivering on to that promise.

While we do not expect the Governor to fully reverse 15 years of underfunding in his first fiscal year, we applaud Governor Pritzker's commitment to continue, if not accelerate, the pace of ramping up this investment in order to improve our State's higher education outcomes.

Public Universities Get A Much Needed 5% Increase

Illinois' four-year universities have endured historic disinvestment over the last ten years -- they saw per-student funding cut by more than 50% before the budget crisis, and then suffered through defunding and uncertainty that affected students, staff, and the system as a whole. As appropriations declined, tuition increased, as universities were left with no options but to shift costs to their students. Now, the net cost for students of all income levels is the highest in the Midwest, and among the highest in the nation, and this hits the lowest income students the hardest. A 5% increase in public universities' budgets is a necessary start in allowing institutions to better serve all of their students.

The Increase in AIM HIGH Should Be Qualified, Or Reconsidered

AIM HIGH, Illinois' new merit-based financial aid program, is an attempt to slow the outmigration of Illinois' high school graduates leaving to attend college in other states. As it currently stands, however, the only need-based qualification is that a student's family income is no greater than six times the national poverty guideline -- about $150,000 for a family of four. There are no further mandates to equitably distribute this grant funding to students, and without such requirements, increasing funding for this program may come at the detriment of qualified students who most need it. Today, Governor Pritzker proposed an increase in state appropriations to this program.

One of the stipulations of AIM HIGH is that colleges must match all grants to students with their own institutional aid. Without requiring that grants go to low-income students, and assuming that an institution does not increase their institutional aid greatly after receiving AIM HIGH (which would be difficult given the aforementioned funding shortfalls), this matching provision could actually draw institutional aid away from low-income students who need them to attend these universities and direct it to better-resourced students who may have chosen to attend that university anyway. With enrollment numbers in precipitous decline, now is not the time to expand a grant program that may result in even fewer Illinois' low-income students being able to afford our public universities.

A more equitable path to driving Illinois' students to attend our public universities is to redirect the $10,000,000 increase to the more than 3,200 eligible students who will apply for MAP and not receive any funds this year.

More Commendable Recommendations

Governor Pritzker recommended a much-needed 5% increase to the State's community colleges, which serve even more of our state's low-income students, first generation college goers, Black and Latino students. The budget plans released by the Governor also include new funding for transitional math, which will increase college preparedness and cut down on developmental education, and for the P-20 council, which is working toward increasing Illinois' important initiative to have 60% of adults attain high-quality degrees by 2025. All of these recommendations are commendable. 

About:​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ The Partnership for College Completion is a new nonprofit organization launched to catalyze and champion policies, systems and practices that ensure all students in and around Chicago - particularly low-income, first generation students - graduate from college and achieve their career aspirations. Launching this regional organization is the culmination of a two-year planning process that was led by Forefront's College and Career Access, Persistence and Success (CCAPS) group and involved hundreds of stakeholders from across Chicago, the region and the nation. For more information:

Mike Abrahamson
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Emily Goldman
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Waubonsee initiative aimed at recruiting, retaining black male students


FEB 12, 2019
- Chicago Tribune (The Beacon-News​)

Officials at Waubonsee Community College had noticed it for a while.

Across the country, Africa-American males graduate at a substantially lower rate than their peers. Among the 10,000 students at WCC, there are 700 African-Americans enrolled, with just 250 of them being male, who have a 58 percent retention rate, compared to 70 percent for all students.

It's an issue that had been noticed and discussed by the higher-ups at the school.

But that concern did not turn into an initiative until WCC President Christine Sobek and Vice President of Strategic Development Jamal Scott attended a Vermont meeting in the fall of 2017 with a national education group called the Association for Innovation and Transformation. There, according to Scott, college officials were challenged to pick a project that could be "transformative in nature" at each of their schools.

Projects eventually chosen by other colleges included focusing on adult students returning to the classroom; finding better ways to work with parents; promoting wellness; and increasing the number of programs offered.

But the moment the challenge went out, recalled Scott, "Dr. Sobek and I looked at each other and the light bulb went on."

Because Scott's role includes reviewing student data and success rates, "we knew this would be a great project for us to focus on."

Since then, that's just what they have done.

The first part of this initiative, Scott said, is to "find and foster mentorships in and around the community." Which, he added, "would seem like such a natural" since Aurora's first African-American mayor, elected the same year this initiative was seeded, grew up in the projects on Aurora's East Side and faced many of the same challenges young black males face today.

And so, in December the mayor and other successful African-American men — including those in their 20s — met with a couple dozen black male students at WCC to discuss what it takes to overcome hurdles like poverty, racial stereotypes and low expectations too often placed on these young men.

By all accounts, it was a revealing and at times emotional meeting, where stories were shared, tears were shed, bridges were built and more eyes were opened to what is needed for these students to achieve success.

Some of the topics discussed: showing respect for others, including women and authority figures; learning to ask for help when needed; and breaking down stereotypes.

"Don't let people define what you can be," Irvin said, after telling the young men how a guidance counselor at East Aurora High School once informed him he'd never amount to much.

"When you see someone as successful as Mayor Irvin stand up and say, 'I was where you are now,'" said Scott, "it makes a tremendous impact."

These meetings are ongoing, he added, with the idea of finding mentors to pair with black male students looking for guidance.

The second part of the initiative, according to Scott, is an alignment with Chicago-based Partnership for College Completion, which has begun an initiative called Illinois Equity in Attainment that focuses on helping students who enter college at a disadvantage because of lack of opportunities.

According to the group, in community colleges, on average only 21 percent of all first-time, full-time students graduate, and only 16 percent of low-income students will graduate.

The idea, said Scott, is "to help them get off the ground and on more equal footing."

While the number of black males enrolled at WCC has remained fairly stable over the decade, Scott is determined to raise that percentage. And one way to do that is to "do a better job" of letting African-American males know about the college, he insisted, adding that too many may be aware of the downtown Aurora campus "but did not know the Sugar Grove campus even existed."

Scott plans to work much closer with school officials, including superintendents and guidance counselors, to more effectively market the opportunities at the school, even if it means providing bus support so "we can get the high school students out to the campus to see what it is all about."

Not only does he and other officials want to see the enrollment numbers go up, he noted, "we need to make sure they are prepared to be successful when they get here."

Success, however, must be measured not just through recruitment but also retention and completion. In other words, "it's not good if we can get them to enroll and then they drop out a week later," Scott said. "We want to see them complete this program or transfer to a four-year school."

Aurora Communications Director Clayton Muhammad, who is also founder of the successful Boys II Men mentoring program and served as emcee at the round-table at WCC, knows more than anyone how very real the student achievement gap is among black males, not just in our community but nationally. And he's convinced education is not only "the great equalizer," it's critical that successful African-Americans get involved in helping guide these students.

This group plans to meet again the last week of the month. And Scott says he's "really excited" about the initiative because "it's like anything in life … once you identify what you want to focus on, you get serious" about improving it.

"We are making it a number one priority," he said. "And by galvanizing the community behind it, this will pay great dividends in the future."

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Illinois House Passes Resolution to Close College Racial, Economic Achievement Gaps and Increase Graduation Rates

Partnership for College Completion-sponsored resolution highlights urgency to prepare all students for demands of Illinois workforce 

November 26, 2018, Chicago, IL—The Illinois House has committed the state to closing the large racial and economic achievement gaps in college degree attainment by 2025. In adopting the resolution (HR1017), the House is supporting the state's decision to add equity targets to the State's public goal of increasing the percentage of Illinoisans with a college degree or credential to 60 percent by 2025. Building on resolution SR1647 that the Senate adopted in May, House legislators pledged to support college and university programs that show evidence of improving educational outcomes for low-income and first generation college students and students of color.

The resolution comes amidst research from the Partnership highlighting persistent gaps in achievement and underscoring the moral and economic imperative to take action through awareness, programs, and policy.In Illinois, 80 percent of employees say they need workers with some postsecondary education. But, only 34 percent of African American students who start at four-year institutions earn bachelor's degrees within six years – a rate 33 percentage points below that of their White peers. For Latinos, 49 percent are earning degrees, a still-wide gap of 17 percentage points. The completion gap between low-income and wealthier students is alarming: only 37 percent of low-income students graduate in six years while 75 percent of wealthier students do.

"This resolution recognizes that in order to reverse racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps we need bicameral support for bold solutions," said Kyle Westbrook, Executive Director of the Partnership. "With the House and Senate now aligned on goals, we look forward to continuing our work with the state to increase equity in higher education."

The Partnership promotes policies, systems and practices that ensure all students particularly low-income and first generation students graduate from college and achieve their career aspirations. The Partnership's initial focus is on colleges and universities in the seven-county northeastern Illinois area. The recently-passed House resolution follows a Partnership initiative with 25 colleges and universities, who recently announced their commitment to closing the equity gaps on their campuses by 2025. The specific, coordinated steps led by PCC in collaboration with national partners, is a major move to close racial and socioeconomic college degree completion gaps.

About: The Partnership for College Completion is a new nonprofit organization launched to catalyze and champion policies, systems and practices that ensure all students in and around Chicago - particularly low-income, first generation students - graduate from college and achieve their career aspirations. Launching this regional organization is the culmination of a two-year planning process that was led by Forefront's College and Career Access, Persistence and Success (CCAPS) group and involved hundreds of stakeholders from across Chicago, the region and the nation. For more information:

Emily Goldman
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ILEA 2018 Summit


The PCC held our first Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) Summit on November 13, bringing together leaders of 25 colleges and universities, national education experts, and students to discuss how programs can be developed, shared, and implemented to eliminate institutional achievement gaps in college degree completion for low-income, first generation, African-American and Latino students by 2025. More than 200 participants spent the day in workshops and breakout sessions discussing how to define equity, build community, explore how data can drive action, and set the path forward.

The Summit followed the ILEA launch on October 2, in which colleges representing 223,000 students, 37% of the Illinois undergraduate enrollment, pledged to eliminate longstanding institutional inequities in degree completion by race and income. The Partnership's initial primary area of focus is the seven-county region including and surrounding Chicago. The Summit represents a key piece of the Partnership's strategy: using our resources and convening power to support the ILEA institutions through sharing of data and best practices.

The tone of the day was set by US Sen. Dick Durbin, the first in his family to graduate from college, who went on to earn a law degree before becoming a US Senator. "What you are doing may be the most important thing for this country," he said. In other introductory remarks, City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado noted that every one of the seven colleges has "enthusiastically embraced" the ILEA initiative. He said that the quality of our success will depend on how far we can move students from where they began to realize their true potential.

Students from five ILEA institutions – Governors State, Malcolm X, National Louis, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Waubonsee Community College - reminded educators to acknowledge the challenges many students face, from college readiness to financial pressures to mental health concerns. They may also face racist or sexist remarks. The solutions: awareness, first, then having in place an array of support systems that ease the transition into and through college, together with the connections and networks to post-graduate career opportunities.

Throughout the Summit, participants examined personal experiences, assumptions, and biases – important steps to understand the hurdles that lie in front of students. But, to develop and apply policies and practices to close equity gaps at scale, the value of obtaining actionable data could not be understated. Participants in all sessions, and notably in a discussion facilitated by leaders from Achieving the Dream and the College of Lake County, spoke of gathering data that is descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and proscriptive. Data can be used, for example, by faculty to re-design courses or to create specific success strategies for each student that extend beyond college completion to securing sustainable employment.

Changing demographics in college enrollment and in the workplace make the work of the Partnership and ILEA especially timely. Said Lori Suddick, President of The College of Lake County: "There is an urgent need to address both the economic and moral imperative to this work. Joining the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative supports CLC's focus on ensuring equity in access and success so every student completes."

The participation of the 25 colleges is a first in many regards. Each of the ILEA institutions will develop an equity plan that includes annual growth targets for low-income, first generation, African-American and Latino students. The Partnership will issue annual reports on progress toward these goals. The ILEA Summit marks one of the first steps, with colleges participating in a series of activities over the coming months, leading to draft equity plans by July and final plans in place by December 2019.

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Illinois universities pledge to end racial, income graduation gaps by 2025


16th Oct, 2018


The University has joined 24 other colleges and universities across Illinois to help more working-class students receive college degrees by 2025.

The project, named Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative and launched by nonprofit organization Partnership for College Completion, aims to eliminate racial and economic obstacles that prevent students from receiving college degrees within the typical two or four-year time frame.

Kyle Westbrook, executive director of Partnership for College Completion, said there are three phases in the Illinois Equity in Attainment initiative such as providing financial-aid plans for low-income students, making colleges and universities more welcoming for students from underrepresented backgrounds and working to ensure each degree path is clearly mapped out for students.

"UIUC has among the lowest gaps in degree completion along racial and socioeconomic lines in Illinois," Westbrook said in an email. "We hope that UIUC uses this collaboration to continue to focus efforts on increasing African-American student enrollment and ultimately completely closing the relatively modest gap that does exist in degree completion for UIUC."

The project revealed students of color from Illinois and who are first-generation students from working-class backgrounds have more difficulty getting associate's or bachelor's degrees in comparison to white, wealthier students.

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, 66 percent of Illinois students earn a bachelor's degree within six years while only 36 percent of African American students and 48 percent of Latino students graduate within the same time frame.

The University, DePaul University and the University of Illinois at Chicago are among the twenty-five schools in Illinois that have pledged to participate in this initiative.

"We're excited to see the great focus that Chancellor Jones is bringing to improving what are already great numbers for UIUC and look forward to continued leadership on issues of access and equity from our state's flagship institution," Westbrook said.

The University has already taken steps to allow students of lower socioeconomic status to achieve secondary education by granting free four-year tuition to admitted students from families making less than $61,000 a year, according to the Partnership for College Completion website. The ultimate goal is to end the graduation gap by 2025.

Kathy Martensen, the assistant provost for Educational Programs, said the University will be working directly with the project.

"Our team will be working with representatives from the ILEA in the coming months to define our institution-specific goals, opportunities, challenges and a path forward," she said. "The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is excited to be one of these 25 partners, especially since we are one of only two of the partner schools who would be considered to be located outside of the greater Chicagoland area, and we're looking forward to learning more and working with PCC on the ILEA initiative."

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WBEZ News - Illinois Equity in Attainment


October 9, 2018

WBEZ News - Illinois Equity in Attainment
Includes interview with our Managing Director, Lisa Castillo Richmond. 

WBEZ News - Illinois Equity in Attainment

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Initiative Aims To Close The State’s ‘Graduation Gap’



Twenty-five colleges around the state have signed on to a new initiative aimed at increasing graduation rates among students from underserved communities.

The nonprofit Partnership for College Completion's Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative asks schools to develop a plan to increase graduation rates among students who are low-income, first generation or students of color.

"College completion rates have been very stagnant for a long time," said Lisa Castillo Richmond, director of the Partnership for College Completion. "That graduation gap between racial and socio-economic groups has been persistent, and in some places increasing."

Illinois has the fourth largest college completion gap between African-American and White students in the country, according to a report released by PCC last year. The report also found that 33 percent of African-American students complete a bachelor's degree in six years or less compared to 66 percent of White students. Latino students have a degree completion rate of 48 percent, according to the research.

To help address these inequities, the two and four-year institutions that are participating in the new initiative will be asked to meet "annual growth targets" for students from traditionally underserved populations and come up with solutions to help eliminate barriers to college completion.

Northern Illinois University is one of the participating schools. NIU President Lisa Freeman said about half of the student population at the DeKalb campus falls into groups that are more likely to experience an achievement gap.

"There is no gap in talent within those groups," Freeman said, "but there is an achievement gap and that's because, we believe, of cultural, navigational, financial and in some cases academic barriers."

One of those financial challenges is the availability of grants from the Monetary Award Program, the primary form of tuition support in the state. Richmond Castillo said the program was once a model for other states, but that it hasn't been funded adequately since 2002.

"MAP covers about 40 percent of the students who need it in the state," Castillo Richmond said. "It doesn't cover all the tuition and fees for all of the types of institutions that our students are attending. So affordability continues to be a big challenge."

Castillo Richmond said they intentionally included a variety of two-year and four-year institutions in their cohort of 25 schools. Each will have to develop a plan that includes creative solutions for low-income students to help pay for their education, and reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain a degree. The plans must be put into place by 2019, with the overall goal of closing the graduation gap by 2025.

Story source: WILL

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