Jonathan joins the Partnership with diverse experience in development and management of educational, cultural and social justice organizations. He holds a bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and aims to use his experiences to support and inspire other first generation students to follow their higher education goals.

HB3438: A Step in the Right Direction Toward Formalizing Institutional Support for Undocumented Students

Jonathan Lopez, PCC Communications and Operations Manager | July 12, 2021

Institutions of higher education in Illinois continue to be confronted with the question of how to best serve the growing number of undocumented and DACA-eligible students on campus. Undocumented students contribute immensely to Illinois' institutions of higher education and to the communities where they live. It is critical that removing barriers they face while pursuing a degree is part of statewide efforts to increase overall college completion rates. The college completion goals of undocumented students are also part of the vital efforts to achieve an educated workforce in Illinois.

Read Jonathan's full analysis at PCC's Medium page.

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PCC Supports the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s New Strategic Plan


The Partnership for College Completion (PCC) is pleased to see the result of the Illinois Board of Higher Education's (IBHE) very broad-based engagement with stakeholders around the state to ensure that many perspectives informed the development of its new strategic plan. Driven by goals for greater equity, sustainability, and growth, the plan reflects the collective thinking of higher education leaders, elected officials, students, faculty, advocates, and many others.

In addition to the process by which IBHE has arrived at its plan, PCC highlights a few key elements that resonate with the organization and likely many other advocacy organizations:

  1. The explicit focus on closing equity gaps along racial lines but also ensuring that students in our rural communities are included in how we're thinking about equity.
  2. The explicit focus on the need for institutions to develop equity plans or explicit road maps for how they will close their respective gaps in completion
  3. The support for an equitable, sufficient, and stable funding model for Illinois that can turn the tide of our state's public universities and community colleges, and ensure that our students have access to the education that they deserve.
  4. Finally, the plan call for a long-term goal to increase funding for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) and consequently invest directly in our state's low-income students and their futures.

PCC is pleased with how comprehensive this plan is in clearly connecting the experiences that our students need with the resources and leadership that are necessary to providing those experiences.

There is much for IBHE to be proud of in this plan and we are excited to offer our support in moving it from planning to implementation in the years to come—putting Illinois on a new course for success in the 21st Century.

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An HSI Graduate’s Story: All Perseverance Amid Inadequate Support


Jonathan Lopez, Communications and Operations Manager | December 9, 2020
Jonathan is an alum of two Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). 

Achieving my dream of a college degree took a lot of work and perseverance. As a young undocumented immigrant in 2006, I graduated high school with the expectation that I would not be able to attend college. I was told for two years by my high school counselor that "people like me did not go to college," that it "was too hard or nearly impossible," for an undocumented student. The counselor repeated that message to me so much that by graduation time, I believed it. I spent almost two years not going to college while trying to encourage myself to figure out a way.

After reaching out to many community colleges and universities, some of which actually denied me an admission application, I arrived at a 2-year institution I would ultimately attend. There, a counselor talked to me about Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) being friendlier to undocumented students. I will never forget this counselor because he was welcoming and gave me hope for the first time. Although this college had not been designated an HSI at that point, the counselor painted a picture that emerging HSIs can sometimes be more prepared to enroll Latinx students regardless of their status. At that, I enrolled at the institution and embarked on my college career.

Nothing would prepare me for the nearly 10-year struggle to graduate college. As a freshman, I thought that an institution with so many Latinx students would be better prepared to serve students like me. In theory, they are supposed to be. But this is not the reality that many students experience. I did not experience it. Instead, I attended college with no resources or clear support. After almost 4 years, I'd earned an Associate Degree with honors and began the transfer process to a 4-year institution. My transfer experience was marked by the very apparent inattention that many institutions of higher ed have long been reporting as having toward transfer students. But I was hopeful - the university I transferred to was among the first in Illinois to be given the official designation of HSI. This institution was wonderfully welcoming and accepting of my undocumented status, but even with an HSI designation, there were no targeted resources or supports for me to persist and eventually graduate.

My struggles were mainly financing college at this point. Working three part-time jobs was not enough because paying for the higher tuition costs of a 4-year university out of pocket, with no family or institutional support, was incredibly difficult. My lack of financial resources and the constant "holds" on my student account forced me to stop out of the university twice - having to choose between eating or paying tuition. It took me almost six years to complete the rest of my undergraduate program. During these six years, other colleges and universities received their designation of HSI or emerging HSI, but circumstances did not change for me or for many of my peers. I eventually achieved a Bachelor's degree in 2019 by my own perseverance, two small community scholarships, and with PCC's support. But I graduated never experiencing the support of a policy, a program, or student service aimed at helping me persist and graduate.

Looking back, it would have helped if there had been targeted financial aid for students like me, informed college advising to help maneuver obstacles and support transfer students, and policies and programming aimed at preventing me from stopping out of college. More significantly, it would have helped having more diverse curricula and academic programs.

Today, as a college degree holder and while working at a mission-driven organization involved in higher education reform, I continue to learn of new HSI designations in Illinois. I have also learned of publicly-funded grants that are made available to some institutions that reach the HSI designations. These grants and the continued growth of Latinx student enrollment represent an opportunity for Illinois colleges and universities to implement effective programming and system-wide student support for Latinx students to persist and graduate.

As the Latinx population in the United States continues to grow, more colleges and universities will inevitably be designated HSIs. Will the institutions aim to do more than reach HSI status? Will they welcome the opportunity to better serve their Latinx students?

For students like me, those who are currently enrolled at or on their way to attending an HSI, my hope is that HSIs and emerging HSIs are prepared to serve them in more than name only.

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PCC Response to Governor Pritzker's 2020 Budget Address


February 19, 2020

Today, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced his FY21 budget proposal and for a second year in a row the Governor has taken steps to chart a path towards investing in Illinois' future. This year's budget builds on last year's progress, and with many colleges experiencing enrollment gains, it appears, students and families are regaining trust and confidence in Illinois' public higher education system.

The Governor's budget supports growth in higher education through:

  • Increasing the states investment in the Monetary Award Program (MAP) by $50 million
  • Increasing appropriations to our state's public universities and community colleges by 5%
  • Providing Free community college for students whose families earn less than $45,000
  • Maintaining AIM HIGH grant funding

The Governor's proposed FY21 budget aligns with PCC's goals to improve higher education in three important areas:

PCC celebrates increased investment in MAP and community college student grants.
There is perhaps no more important way to make higher education affordable for low-income students than to better fund Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, as they are crucial in helping low-income students enroll and persist in college. Today, the Governor committed to a further $50 million increase in MAP, increasing the number of eligible students served and potentially the amount of aid students receive, inching the state closer to a financial aid program that serves all students in need. The Partnership reaffirms our commitment to advocating for a full $100 million investment in MAP.

The Partnership applauds the Governor's commitment to Illinois' low-income community college students.
The Governor also introduced a program that would guarantee that low-income students under a $45,000 income threshold would not have to pay tuition and fees at community college. Considering that community college students are far more likely to not receive MAP despite being eligible and applying, this new policy could help many students enroll in college.

Just like the Governor, PCC also recognizes the need for new sources of funding that can support higher education.
With revenue from the cannabis industry, gaming, taxes, and the prospect of additional funds in the coming years if the state adopts a Fair Tax, the Partnership urges the state legislature to consider this $50 million increase a down payment toward a fully funded program – one that serves all eligible low-income students at full tuition and fees. Then – and only then – will we lessen the financial barrier to higher education still faced by thousands of Illinois' low-income students.

There is much to celebrate in this budget, and PCC applauds the Governor's commitment to the state's college students. However, the Partnership also provides the following recommendations as part of a comprehensive approach to improving equity in higher education.

  1. The state should invest in financial aid programs that help students persist. Emergency completion grant programs support students at risk of stopping out due to unmet financial need, resulting from the loss of a job or medical expenses. These programs keep students on track to degree completion, raise graduation rates, and narrow institutional completion gaps.
  2. MAP grants should be phased out at for-profit institutions. While for-profit colleges serve less than 8% of the state's college students, they account for nearly twice the amount of student loan defaults than all of Illinois' public and private institutions combined. By eliminating MAP at for-profits, Illinois would be helping thousands more students access a more affordable higher education.
  3. Move toward instituting an equitable funding formula for higher education.
  4. Currently, Illinois does not have a funding formula for allocating resources to four-year public institutions, and as a result, appropriations are based on historic funding levels. An independent task force should be established to study the current allocation method and recommend an allocation model that distributes state resources equitably and predictably, and that ensures institutions serving our most vulnerable students are well-supported.
  5. 4. The state should support student parents in higher education by providing more information on existing resources. In his proposed budget, Governor Pritzker included an expansion of the child care assistance program to offer reduced co-pays to parents. This increase would be most effective if coupled with increasing information to student parents on child care resources such as the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and federal dependent care allowance. A change as simple as notifying student parents about their eligibility for resources in their financial aid letters would bridge that information gap.

For more information, contact PCC Senior Policy Manager Emily Goldman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Illinois’ Higher Education Budget Requests $25 Million for Nonpublic Institutions: Here’s How to Make It Equitable

December 6, 2018, Chicago, IL — In a proposal unveiled on Tuesday as part of its FY2020 budget recommendations, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) is requesting a $25 million taxpayer subsidy to private institutions. If enacted, these funds have the potential to be either a carve out for higher income students, or a tool for improving equity in Illinois higher education; it all depends on the implementation details.

The recommendation, titled "Financial Assistance for Nonpublic Institutions," would revive a program that awarded $21 million to private institutions in FY2000, which itself was based on the rationale that Illinois should maintain a diversity of higher education institutions. How this act fits in with modern higher education goals of equity is left undetermined: "rules for the program would be developed to maximize current state goals," the proposal reads.

In 2016, $136 million went toward making private universities more affordable for MAP students and yet a MAP grant only covers 14% of tuition at these colleges, less than half of the amount it covers at Illinois' public universities. Sticker price aside, the average cost to low-income families is more than 30% greater at private institutions compared to at public universities. Further, these schools serve lower percentages of underrepresented and low-income students than public universities. So how can this $25 million be a force for equity, compared to better funding the MAP grants, a need-based program that goes directly to students, for example?

While private colleges do tend to have higher graduation rates for minority and low-income students, they also serve these populations more selectively. The Financial Assistance for Nonpublic Institutions program could counteract this selection and give more opportunities to underrepresented students by only distributing funds to colleges in proportion with their increases in number of underrepresented students served, and as matching grants that fund financial aid for those students. This would guarantee that taxpayer dollars are going toward increasing the rates at which better resourced private colleges serve the students who need it most, while simultaneously lowering the price of college for these students.

The original program was created in response to a 1961 statute calling for "maintain[ing] a diversity of public and private institutions." PCC agrees that a healthy state higher education system should include a diverse tapestry of high-quality postsecondary options for all students, provided that these institutions serve students equitably. As proponents of the current iteration acknowledge, how it's implemented is critical. Only a plan that allots funds as a condition of better serving underrepresented students, however, can turn this budget request into one that increases equity for Illinois' students.

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
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Emily Goldman
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Backstory: Kyle Westbrook, Partnership for College Completion

Kyle Westbrook grew up in Springfield expecting to be an astronaut, not an education activist.

But his experiences led Westbrook, 44, to a career in education — as a history teacher at Lincoln Park High School, to an education policy leader in the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and now as the founding executive director of the Partnership for College Completion. Unlike myriad organizations that prepare students to be "college ready," the nonprofit works to prepare colleges so they can help low-income, first-generation African-American and Latino students graduate. 

What was the genesis of the Partnership for College Completion?

A group of foundations realized they had made a tremendous amount of investment in supporting students in their K-12 education, but hadn't done enough to support students through their college experience. 

What drove you to do this work in the nonprofit sector?

Seeing students with so much potential and intelligence and not seeing them realize that potential, whether it was because they couldn't finish high school because of circumstances, or in many cases they'd finish high school but were never going to complete college for a variety of reasons. It was never because of intellect or ability. It's what motivated me in this role. They never had access to the middle class in the way I did. 

What is the biggest challenge facing low-income and students of color today?

A high school diploma is just not going to be sufficient because of the complexity of our economy. I read a recent study that found around 98 percent of the new jobs created require some sort of post-secondary education. So the challenge is how do we decrease the number of low-income students who are going to college but don't graduate? This impacts the life outcomes for those students. Not only do they end up without a degree, but oftentimes they end up with student loans and student debts. In many ways, they are often worse off for having gone to college if they haven't completed it. 

You worked for Mayor Rahm Emanuel before launching the partnership. What role does politics play in education policy?

In the best case scenario you have multiple groups that align to come together for a shared agenda. Where politics tends to derail education is when we have politicians who act in ways that aren't clearly aligned with what our students need. 

How do you start your morning?

Waking up and checking emails to make sure there's no emergency. Assuming there's not, I get up and exercise. No matter how hard or light, it makes me feel better about the day. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An astronaut. I had a fascination with space. I'm still interested in astronomy. 

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Reverse Onerous State Cuts to Higher Education


Letter to the Editor | Reverse Onerous State Cuts to Higher Education | Chicago Sun Times​

We applaud the Sun-Times' focus on addressing the debt burden faced by too many of our college students and the ripple effect it has across families and communities.

Nivine Megahed, president of National Louis University, has rightly called for radically rethinking tuition structures and the business model for higher education. Larger public investment in our students is equally important.

A key factor contributing to increased student debt has been the decline in state investment in higher education by the General Assembly and governors of both parties. Thus, the burden of financing a college education has now been largely shifted to students and their families.

We must reverse the decline in the number of students receiving Illinois' need-based student aid program, the Illinois Monetary Assistance Program award, and commit to funding the MAP award at a level that ensures that every student who qualifies receives the award. Funding must also ensure that the award covers the cost of tuition at the state's public universities, as it did as recently as 2002.

While the recent budget passed by the Legislature is an important first step in reversing over a decade of disinvestment in higher education, much more is needed from our elected officials in order to lessen the financial burden of higher education on the state's low-income and working class students. The health of our students and our state depends on it.

Kyle Westbrook, The Partnership for College Completion

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