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

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

June 21, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 5, 2021

By Elyssa Cherney - CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


March 22, 2021

By Elyssa Cherney - CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Equity in Action

Dear ILEA Partners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership for equity,


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


February 2021

by Tim Anderson - Stateline Midwest

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

HB 2170 seeks to change that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: https://www.csgmidwest.org/policyresearch/0221-developmental-education-Illinois.aspx

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Letter to Congress on Student and Taxpayer Protections


February 2, 2021

Dear Member of Congress:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

90/10 Rule

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

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

Borrower Defense to Repayment

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

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

Gainful Employment

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

Incentive Compensation Ban

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

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

Additional Proposals

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

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


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

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


January 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

35 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


January 19, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: https://www.northernpublicradio.org/post/illinois-reforming-developmental-education-heres-why-advocates-say-its-racial-equity-issue

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

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IBHE Announces Members of New Strategic Planning Advisory Committee


January 13, 2021

By IBHE - My Radio Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: https://www.myradiolink.com/2021/01/13/illinois-board-of-higher-education-announces-members-of-new-strategic-planning-advisory-committee/

This report was also featured on River Bend.

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Higher education reform bill unveiled, aims for racial equity through scholarships, program reforms


January 11, 2021

by By Peter Hancock - Capitol News Illinois

Source: https://www.starcourier.com/story/news/2021/01/11/higher-education-reform-bill-unveiled-aims-racial-equity-through-scholarships-program-reforms/6627073002/

This report was also featured on WGLT News.

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COVID-19 and Higher Ed: Students Face Challenges Applying, Paying for College


December 20, 2020

By Erica Gunderson - WTTW News

In any year, applying for college can be a stressful time for high school students. But like so many other things this year, the pandemic has made the application process even more uncertain and difficult.

"The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism do not change this fact for them — it's just another barrier to overcome, like all of the others they've navigated around and through their entire lives," said Jeffery Beckham Jr., interim CEO of Chicago Scholars Foundation, which helps students from low-income communities.

While colleges grapple with evaluating applicants, financially disadvantaged students are struggling to figure out how to pay for college in a devastated economy. That struggle is reflected in the figures from a recent report showing that undergrad enrollment dropped by 3.6% this year. The downturn is in line with a larger trend, particularly among Black students.

Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion, cites that report from the National Student Clearinghouse.

"Early data … shows an overall decline in college enrollment of 4% freshmen enrollment in community colleges is down approximately 22%. Freshmen enrollment at public universities and private nonprofit colleges is down 14% and 12%, respectively. Enrollment declines have been steepest among students identifying as American Indian and Black students, 11% and 8%, respectively."

To help aspiring college students manage the flood of information, Westbrook says the PCC developed a website aggregating data on how Illinois colleges and universities are addressing the pandemic. It's called Illinois Colleges Forward.

The pandemic accelerated a move to "test-blind admissions" — admission decisions not based on standardized test scores — at some colleges. Prior to the pandemic, Northern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University Carbondale had adopted test-blind admissions. Since the pandemic started, all Illinois public universities have adopted the same policy.

Beckham sees potential for a silver lining in these sorts of policy changes.

"Colleges have had to respond to the fact that many students weren't even able to sit for the SAT or ACT by the time they submitted their applications … this year has also drastically opened-up access to resources in the college process with everything moving online," Beckham said. "Virtual campus tours are now becoming the norm instead of in-person visits reserved only for those who have the means to fund them. In general, colleges have had to make more information more accessible this year, at the same time as they have been forced to change how they reach and recruit students. The typical high school visit is out the window, so more organic means of school-student interaction like social media have gained a lot of traction."

But in the coronavirus-devastated economy, the problem of how to pay for college has worsened, especially for those already at a financial disadvantage.

"There is always a worry that students who are economically vulnerable will be forced, due to job demands and pressure to support family members who themselves have lost jobs, to drop out of college," said Westbrook.

For those students, says Beckham, taking a year off before applying for college to wait out the pandemic can further disadvantage them.

"A gap year means different things to different students. And unfortunately, it's one of those options that reinforces the racial and wealth divide," Beckham said. "A student from an affluent family may see a gap year as an opportunity to take on a virtual internship with a company connected to a parent; a low-income student might see it as working more shifts at the local grocery store to save money and help out their family in this uncertain time."

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A New Report Says Illinois Should Change How It Funds Higher-Ed


December 2, 2020

by PETER MEDLIN - NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

A new report reflects on the long-term cost of cutting education funding during past recessions and how Illinois can learn from those mistakes during the COVID recession.

The Partnership for College Completion argues that recessions are a rare opportunity to make college access and cost more equitable.

Mike Abrahamson is the Partnership's policy manager. He believes the future of Illinois' economy depends on how Illinois devotes funding to education now, when dollars are scarce and there could be budget cuts for schools around the corner.

"It's crucial that we respond to this not by cutting across the board, if we do need to make cuts, but in a way that recognizes the institutions and the students that they serve."

The report calls for the state to adopt a funding formula for higher-ed -- similar to K-12's Evidence-Based Funding -- that prioritizes schools who rely more on state appropriations and often enroll a higher percent of low-income and students of color.

Up to 10% funding cuts could be on the horizon for higher-ed in Illinois. He said it's important to remember schools and students won't be hit equally.

"At some universities, it might mean increasing tuition by a few hundred dollars at others in order to make up that gap it would be over $1,000," he said. "And those students have far less ability to pay because our most financially vulnerable institutions also enroll our most financially vulnerable students."

That also means directing more money the Monetary Award Program or MAP need-based grants. Abrahamson says Illinois' FAFSA completion gap grew because of the pandemic -- with completion dropping 4% at lower-income high schools and increasing by nearly 5% at more affluent schools.

He said it's vital Illinois invest in education during the COVID-induced recession. The report states that disinvestment during previous economic downturns directly led to enrollment declines over the past decade.

Along with equity-focused funding for the next few years, the report also asks the state to establish a transparent equity task force to plan a long-term funding formula for higher-ed.

Source: https://www.nprillinois.org/post/new-report-says-illinois-should-change-how-it-funds-higher-ed#stream/0

This report was also featured on Tri States Public Radio, Northern Public Radio, and in POLITICO's Illinois Playbook.

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Work, classes, financial aid — and now COVID-19: Life as a poor college student has only gotten tougher during the pandemic


November 28, 2020

by ELYSSA CHERNEY - Chicago Tribune

When Ximena Castillo needs to focus on her college coursework, she walks down the hall from her basement apartment in Chicago's Gage Park neighborhood and settles into her new study spot: the laundry room.

No one bothers her there. It's quiet and the temperature is comfortable — until, that is, one of her neighbors needs to wash or dry a load.

But Castillo, a junior at Dominican University in River Forest, still prefers working there than in the small unit she shares with her parents, which is full of distractions. She used to live on campus, but she moved home after the coronavirus pandemic erupted and doesn't have her own bedroom anymore.

"I don't feel comfortable going to a cafe or anything currently," said Castillo, 20, who worries she could expose her relatives to COVID-19. The laundry room is "not the best, but not the worst. I would prefer to be outside with my dogs because I like sitting in nature, but it's way too cold for that right now."

Finding a setting conducive to schoolwork is just one of the myriad challenges low-income college students face as they try to continue their education despite pandemic-related setbacks.

Some students have withdrawn from school because of changing economic circumstances, problems with online learning or difficulty connecting to virtual student services.

According to U.S. census data from August, nearly 7 million people said they canceled college plans for the fall because their income had changed during the pandemic and they could no longer pay.

Overall undergraduate enrollment at U.S. colleges is down about 4.4%, with the greatest declines seen in community colleges and among first-year students, according to the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse. While the NSC does not break the numbers down by socioeconomic status, nontraditional and low-income students typically favor community colleges.

In Illinois, fewer students have applied for federal and state financial aid since schools closed down in March compared with the same time last year, according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which administers need-based grants to college students. That's a sign low-income students might be abandoning college plans altogether instead of seeking help with tuition.

"For our low-income students, they are obviously struggling with their education and helping out with their families," said Jacqueline Moreno, an executive staff member at ISAC. "It's not entirely different from what low-income students face when they are first-generation college students in any year — it's just exacerbated right now, and people are paying more attention."

Unlike in families where going to university is expected, Moreno said, low-income and first-generation college students often feel guilt for pursuing higher education and not immediately entering the workforce to help with household bills.

Castillo, a graphic design major, is trying her best to stay on track. She's refinanced her student loans, received help from her school's COVID-19 relief fund and taken on extra jobs to put toward her tuition.

Her mom, who works at a Little Caesars, and her father, a construction worker on medical leave prior to the pandemic, don't make enough to cover the cost but have always encouraged her to pursue higher education, though they didn't go to college.

But between picking up shifts as a hostess at a University Village restaurant and trying to complete her coursework, Castillo is often exhausted. She's still more than $2,000 behind on school payments and can't register for spring classes until she puts forward more money, she said.

At the same time, her shifts at the restaurant have dried up as business slows due to the pandemic and the ban on indoor dining. Castillo used to work up to five days a week at Bar Louie but is now lucky if she gets scheduled for one.

"It's a lot on my plate," said Castillo, who went to George Westinghouse College Prep in East Garfield Park, part of Chicago Public Schools. "I feel like either my work suffers or my school suffers, and it's so hard.

"For a while I was juggling two jobs on top of school, and I felt like I was drowning. No sleep. Constantly on energy drinks and coffee just to get by. And it was so unsatisfying because I would do my best at everything and get half done."

'It went downhill this semester'

Taking time off from college was not part of Jony Estrada's plan. Though he was nervous about starting classes this fall at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Estrada had been eager to study economics and wanted to minor in finance.

The 21-year-old, however, began to feel overwhelmed with virtual learning and the amount of coursework. The large class sizes didn't help — Estrada said he grew anxious waiting for professors to reply to emailed questions — and he struggled to connect with UIC tutors when he tried to reach them by phone.

"I never considered taking a gap year until this year, when this whole pandemic started," said Estrada, who lives in the West Elsdon neighborhood, near Midway Airport, with his parents. "It went downhill this semester. I don't know if it's because I'm a new student and I'm not familiar with how things work around here or just because of the work."

Estrada earned his associate degree from Loyola University Chicago over the summer and participates in a program through the nonprofit Bottom Line, which helps low-income and first-generation students reach college and obtain a degree.

While Estrada hoped to continue making progress this semester, he felt staying in school would negatively affect his mental health, so he dropped his four classes just before midterms.

Chris Broughton, executive director of Bottom Line's Chicago operations, said most of the 1,500 students in his programs are sticking with school even though they don't like online classes.

"About 85% or more of our students are staying enrolled in college and trying to persist and navigate this new remote learning environment, even though it's been a challenge," he said. "Students are generally feeling dissatisfied and not enjoying that experience in the way they envisioned."

For now, Estrada hopes to get an internship in a business-related field as he decides whether to return to UIC in the spring. He's not sure if he should wait until next year, when there might be a better chance for in-person learning to resume.

"I will graduate because that's my goal also ― to get a diploma, to get a bachelor's degree ― but I think right now I need a little break," he said. "I just don't think I'm ready for this semester."

Deepening inequities

While anecdotes of students delaying college abound, the Illinois Board of Higher Education is trying to prevent students from pausing their studies.

As part of a new campaign called "Stay the Course," IBHE is publicizing data that shows "a significant percentage" of students who take gap years never complete college. The trend is especially prevalent for low-income students, rural students and students of color, the campaign says.

"Almost all of the new jobs created since the 2008 recession require some kind of credential beyond high school," the IBHE campaign says in social media posts and online messages.

According to one NSC study, only 10.5% of roughly the 1.6 million students who had dropped out of Illinois colleges returned to school between 2013 and 2018. Across all states, only 13% returned, and fewer graduated.

But today, as the pandemic enters its ninth month and a new wave of infections triggers statewide restrictions, some of the obstacles can seem insurmountable.

Jermaine Lash, who attended City Colleges of Chicago, is also taking this semester off because of problems with his financial aid.

Lash, 21, of Englewood, said he is seven credits away from earning an associate degree in business administration from Richard J. Daley College, one of the community college network's campuses. But complications with his Federal Pell Grant, assistance that goes to undergraduates with exceptional financial need, have prevented him from enrolling in fall classes.

Lash's advisers at One Million Degrees, an organization that helps Illinois community college students, said his predicament is especially difficult because he must deal with virtual student services at CCC during the arduous process of verifying his financial records.

Part of the holdup: Lash's mother recently died from health issues unrelated to the pandemic, and he can't access her tax documents, Lash said.

"I feel like it would be 10 times better if I could just talk to them in person," Lash said. "Then they'll get a better understanding and help guide me to the right path on figuring out a solution."

Until then, Lash is working in the deli at a Jewel-Osco close to downtown. He hopes the paperwork will be sorted out in time for spring classes but worries he might need to skip next semester too.

"I just want to finish this. I like college," he said. "I went ever since I got out of high school. ... Ever since then, I've never taken a break or anything. So now this is something new to me. ... It doesn't really feel right."

As a whole, Illinois community colleges are enduring a major hit from the pandemic, with enrollment plunging nearly 14% this fall, according to data from the Illinois Community College Board.

While IBHE hasn't released fall enrollment figures for the state's public universities, the NSC estimates overall college enrollment in Illinois dropped by 6.4%.

The gap indicates how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting low-income communities of color, said Lisa Castillo Richmond, managing director of the Partnership for College Completion, a Chicago nonprofit. She's concerned the pandemic will further deepen inequities in higher education.

"Our community colleges serve our most vulnerable students," she said. "They serve much greater proportions of low-income students, first-generation students, African American students and Latinx students."

The number of students seeking financial aid through state and federal grants has also dropped off since the pandemic closed schools in March, a sign that college may seem out of reach for some.

As of mid-November, the state's need-based Monetary Award Program had received 8% fewer applications from eligible students compared with the same point last year, according to ISAC.

For the 2021-22 school year, applications from MAP-eligible students have dropped by 9%, though it's still early in the cycle. Submissions only opened Oct. 1.

'Students will work their tails off'

During the pandemic, Dominican University has seen a "dramatic increase" in financial aid appeals, which students can file when there's a change in their economic situation.

For many, that's due to a family member losing a job, health care costs and other unforeseen expenses, said Victoria Spivak, assistant vice president of student enrollment services and director of financial aid.

"Dominican serves a very high-needs population," she said. "We are over 50% Pell eligible. ... We also serve a significant number of undocumented students."

In response to financial aid appeals, Dominican provided additional institutional aid and also distributed money made available to students through the federal coronavirus relief program. Students can use those grants to pay for pandemic-related expenses including food, housing and technology. So far, Dominican had awarded nearly $1.5 million in such grants, a spokeswoman said.

Broughton, of Bottom Line, said his organization also doled out more than $160,000 to help students with groceries and other emergency expenses over the last 10 months through a new fund.

But for students like Castillo, the struggle continues. Her mom lost two weeks of wages, she said, after someone at Little Caesars contracted COVID-19 and she had to quarantine due to the exposure.

Castillo has more time to study since her shifts at Bar Louie have been reduced, but she's anxious she won't have enough money to pay down her balance in time for spring classes.

Students can't register for courses if they owe $1,000 or more in unpaid fees, said Mark Carbonara, Dominican's director of academic advising and first-year experience, who's been helping Castillo look for more scholarships.

"Our students will work their tails off — second and third shift ― in order to pay for college," but those jobs are disappearing because of COVID-19, he said.

While it's nerve-wracking to wait, Castillo said she remains hopeful she'll come up with money to attend next semester. She said the adversity will make her a stronger person in the end.

"I just remind myself how lucky I am to even have the opportunity to go to school," she said. "I know a lot of people in my neighborhood who didn't have the same opportunities as I did."

Source: https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-covid-19-illinois-low-income-college-students-20201127-53zqwvncw5colb72ni3ylxgjwu-story.html

This article was also featured in the Tyler Morning Telegraph and the Herald & Review.

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Without graduated income tax, Illinois state universities brace for ‘almost inevitable’ budget cuts ‘because there’s just nothing left'


November 12, 2020

by ELYSSA CHERNEY - Chicago Tribune

In Gov. J.B. Pritzker's first remarks after voters rejected his administration's signature proposal for a graduated-rate income tax in Illinois, the first-term Democrat singled out higher education as one of the many state-supported areas that could lose funding as lawmakers try to balance the next budget.

With no new sources of revenue and an expected drop in gains from sales tax during the coronavirus pandemic, Pritzker warned that he is left with few favorable options.

Reducing discretionary funding for the state's 12 public universities and community colleges could make it harder for students to afford college if schools raise tuition to offset the losses, some experts said. And there could be less money to support a grant program for low-income college students who qualify for state assistance in a time when more applicants are expected to seek aid.

While Illinois universities are not expecting any budget changes for this fiscal year, which began July 1, some advocates and policy experts said the long-term implications for Illinois higher education could be severe if new sources of funding aren't found.

"Without new revenue, our fear is that we will continue to see the same trajectory that the state has been on in terms of lower enrollment, especially for Black students," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion, a Chicago-based nonprofit.

Over the past two decades, Westbrook said, state appropriations for public universities have remained relatively flat but haven't kept pace with inflation, and a greater share of the funding is being directed to pensions for public university and community college employees.

On top of that, some schools are still reeling from the state's two-year budget impasse under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, Westbrook said. Universities that rely more heavily on state dollars and serve a higher number of lower-income students were disproportionately affected by the funding delays.

"You could argue the situation was dire even before the budget impasse, but that created a crisis in the system as a whole," said Westbrook, who led education policy in former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration. "The failure of the (tax amendment) to pass is so catastrophic for higher ed in the state."

Adam Schuster, senior director of budget and tax research at the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute, agreed that inflation-adjusted spending on higher education is significantly down. Funding has dropped by nearly 20% since 2010, when accounting for inflation, while spending on pensions has skyrocketed, he said.

But Schuster called for reform to the state pension system, a politically divisive issue, as opposed to changing Illinois' flat income tax rate of 4.95%.

"Estimated progressive income tax revenues were not earmarked for any particular purpose and would have failed to close the state's structural deficit," he said in an email. "Cuts to state spending on higher education stem from the unsustainable growth in contributions to the state pension systems."

Public universities contacted by the Tribune had little to say about the failed constitutional amendment. A spokesman for Illinois State University said the school "will have to wait and see what next year's budget cycle looks like." Meanwhile, a spokesman for the University of Illinois System did not offer comment beyond confirming that no changes to state appropriations were planned for this year.

"It would be premature for us to comment on the current budget cycle or future appropriations until the governor's office and the General Assembly share their plans," said Mike Hines, a spokesman for Northeastern Illinois University.

On Thursday, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved a request for an 8.3% increase in state funding next year as officials projected $270 million in costs related to the pandemic. The request is sent to the state Board of Higher Education, the governor and the legislature for consideration.

But Jennifer Delaney, associate professor of higher education at U. of I.'s Urbana-Champaign campus, painted a darker picture. Because higher education spending is the largest discretionary portion of Illinois' budget, it is often the most vulnerable when cuts are required, Delaney said.

Delaney, who also serves on the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said her research shows that higher education funding is more volatile than other spending categories and closely tied to economic conditions. She said the pandemic-related recession exacerbates the situation this year.

"It's almost inevitable that higher ed will be cut because there's just nothing left," Delaney said. "The hope of the (tax amendment) is that it would have brought new or additional revenues in, and without those, it's just not at all clear where the money will come from."

Pritzker's graduated-rate income tax proposal might have provided some relief, but it fell short of the thresholds needed to pass on Election Day. The administration estimated the measure would have generated $1.2 billion in the budget year that ends June 30 and $3.4 billion in future years.

The state remains on shaky financial footing, with the administration projecting a combined loss of $6.5 billion in revenue this year and next year. Pritzker also asked state departments to propose cuts of 5% this year and 10% next year and previously warned there could be a 15% cut to discretionary spending without the constitutional amendment.

In addition to potential cuts, Pritzker said he is considering raising income taxes by 1 percentage point across the board. The General Assembly would have to approve the rate hike.

Melissa Hahn, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Board of Higher Education, released a statement saying "we're still in the budget development process," but did not provide further comment.

During a spring session that was truncated because of the pandemic, the General Assembly passed a $43 billion state budget that held funding relatively steady for education. That was a disappointment for universities, which were hoping to receive a 5% bump in funding before the pandemic hit.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission, a state entity that manages need-based grants for college students, was also in line to receive an additional $50 million but instead saw its funding frozen at last year's level.

Eric Zarnikow, ISAC's executive director, said he understands that budget challenges were created by the pandemic but hopes lawmakers will continue to prioritize his agency's grants, which are distributed through the Monetary Award Program. MAP saw funding increases in 2018 and 2020, bringing it to a historic high of approximately $451 million.

Zarnikow said he thinks budget constraints might be a long-term issue and that it would help if lawmakers in Washington stepped in.

"In Illinois, as well as across the country, education and particularly higher education has been really impacted by COVID-19," he said. "We think support from the federal government is really going to be important to meet the needs of the education community."

Chicago Tribune's Dan Petrella contributed.

Original article: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-ilinois-higher-education-graduated-income-tax-20201112-h3nurmlqlra7hkuuneqlr4eqwe-story.html

This article was also featured in the Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, Herald & Review, The Bloomington Pantagraph

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Experts discuss possible solutions to college affordability in Illinois


October 21, 2020


SPRINGFIELD (ILLINOIS CAPITOL BUREAU) – State lawmakers hope to craft a plan to make college more affordable, especially for many in low-income communities.

Experts say tuition rates continue to soar compared to the average income for those going to college or tech schools. They also told lawmakers community colleges haven't been exempt from the rise in costs due to inflation. Some feel financial aid is critical to providing access to higher education for students in low-income communities.

"We have families that are priced out not just from college attendance in general at four year institutions, but also public two year institutions," said Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor noted dips in attendance align with a lack of diversity in funding models. Zamani-Gallaher feels the state needs more incentives and opportunities to attract students to continue their education.

Currently, five community colleges in Illinois offer promise programs to help high school graduates with full scholarships.

"When combined with Pell and MAP grants, many community college students that benefit from promise programs can attend college without any out-of-pocket costs in terms of tuition and fees," said Brian Durham, Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB).

However, the promise programs fall under a category of "last dollar" programs. Durham explained students have to take advantage of all other options of aid before they access funding from promise programs.

Importance of financial aid
Data from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission showing costs for low-income students.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) also feels financial aid is critical to providing higher education to students in low-income communities.

Executive Director Eric Zarnikow says 54% of MAP recipients are first-generation college students or have no financial resources for college.

"MAP is supporting about 60% of Black undergraduates and well over half of Latino/Latina undergrads attending public universities," Zarnikow said.

He also highlighted work with Gov. JB Pritzker's office to identify a plan to improve grant aid. Zarnikow said combining a $50 million increase in MAP funding with an effort to put 15% of those funds towards community college students could cover tuition and fees for most MAP-eligible community college students.

"He aimed to make community college tuition-free for MAP eligible students whose families make under $45,000 a year. That was essentially free community college program for families making under that amount," Zarnikow added.

Strong free college programs

Meanwhile, the Partnership for College Completion argues Illinois has the framework for a free four-year college program through MAP grants.

"We frankly believe very strongly in the mission of MAP to serve our lowest income students and our neediest students in our state and prioritizing our public resources to do that," Executive Director Kyle Westbrook said.

Sarah Labadie, Associate Director of Policy for Women Employed, feels the idea of free college is attractive to many people. While some community colleges function tuition-free, Labadie noted the state doesn't market it that way.

"If designed really well, a free college program or even remarketing our current program could really ensure that we're able to attract more students to higher education who otherwise think it's out of reach," Labadie explained.

She told lawmakers strong free college programs ensure students leave college without debt. Labadie said successful programs allow anyone to take advantage of the assistance and cover costs for four years of education.

Planning for the future

Many hope the state could explore an equity-based funding model for college similar to the K-12 evidence-based model.

"Even if we gave more money to this system, it is not going to bring equity and justice when it comes to communities of color. It is not designed that way and we have to accept that, find the flaw in it, and fix the design," added Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana).

The Illinois Board of Higher Education hosted focus groups and created a survey for people to share solutions. Executive Director Ginger Ostro hopes to adopt their strategic plan by late March with support from the ICCB and ISAC. Still, Ostro said that would only be the start of the process.

"We will have the need for a series of policy changes, state-level practice changes, as well as institutional-level changes," Ostro explained. "As we go over the next couple of months, there's really an opportunity here for all of us to come together and decide what direction we want to go. How are we going to address these inequities that we've seen in the higher education system? How are we going to meet workforce needs, and how are we going to drive the state's economy?"

Source: https://wsiltv.com/2020/10/21/experts-discuss-possible-solutions-to-college-affordability-in-illinois/ 

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Chicago State Organizes Statewide Effort To Boost College Success For Illinois’ Black Students


July 30, 2020


Faced with a 25% drop in Black enrollment at Illinois' public universities and colleges, a group of university officials, business leaders and advocacy groups are joining together to try to improve outcomes for Black students. The drop in enrollment, as well as declining graduation rates, have come while rates for other underrepresented student groups have increased.

Chicago State University, Illinois' only predominantly Black university, announced Thursday it is forming a working group to increase opportunities for Black students to enroll and graduate from college and find good jobs.

"Black students are having a different experience from that of white students," said CSU President Zaldwaynaka Scott. "[We] need to figure out what is at the root cause that is creating more obstacles, roadblocks and impediments to that."

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Black student enrollment at public universities and community colleges dropped 25% between 2013 and 2017. The percentage of Black students graduating from public universities and community colleges dropped 12% during that same time.

A recent report from the nonprofit, the Education Trust, recently gave the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago "F" grades for their Black student enrollments, which are 6% and 8% respectively, and make up a slightly smaller percentage of the student body than they did two decades ago. This week, the university pledged $2 million to prioritize faculty research and campus discussions on systemic racism.

While Illinois has seen its black population decline in recent years, Scott said there are more fundamental issues at play, which has been made more apparent by the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Black community and the current national reckoning on systemic racism and policing after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

"This whole system is not working for Black people," Scott said. "It's not just higher ed's problem. Our entire state are stakeholders in the outcome."

The working group will be chaired by Scott, Illinois Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago), John Atkinson, Chair of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Karen Freeman-Wilson, President of the Chicago Urban League. The group includes public and private university leaders, state lawmakers, and representatives from businesses including John Deere, AT&T and the Hyatt Corporation. It also includes representatives from community advocacy groups.

"Through a long history of disinvestment in our state's public universities and community colleges, Illinois has, through state policy, limited opportunities for students and families who are least able to afford to attend college, and those students are disproportionately African American," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion and a member of the working group. "[I] hope that this collection of legislative and institutional leaders can increase the momentum towards enacting policies to remove barriers to success for Black students."

Scott said she'd like to see recommendations that focus on the transition from high school to college to better support Black students interested in a degree, including financial literacy and more college-level coursework in high schools. She also said continued financial resources beyond tuition grants and scholarships are key for students who are discouraged or overwhelmed by the additional cost of college, such as books, living expenses and food. Meanwhile, Westbrook pointed to policies that he says are barriers for students, including using standardized test scores for admissions and requiring underprepared college students to take developmental or remedial education classes before being able to take college-level courses.

The first meeting is scheduled for September 10. The goal is to develop an equity plan that includes policy recommendations by January 2021 ahead of the next legislative session.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter@WBEZeducationand@McGeeReports.

Source: https://www.wbez.org/stories/chicago-state-organizes-statewide-effort-to-boost-college-success-for-illinois-black-students/155b8f83-6b84-4853-83e3-b3840636efbc

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Op-Ed: City Colleges Makes Bold Move Toward Equity


July 14, 2020

by KYLE WESTBROOK, PH.D. - Crain's Chicago Business

For far too many of our students, and members of our community, the emails that filled our inboxes a month ago affirming the importance of racial equity, rang hollow. With no concrete, bold, and demonstrable action to follow, these messages can easily be filed away in the spam folder of white guilt relief. That email from a company or even a college or university may make the authors feel proud of a well-crafted response to the moment, but it does little to address the enduring structural racism baked into our institutions.

While companies such as Chicago's Quaker Oats and D.C.'s pro football team have made important steps to remove the worst iconography of racism and oppression from their brands, fewer have taken the most meaningful steps in actually investing money into dismantling institutional racism and providing the foundation for a future that has justice at its core.

This is why the incredible step taken by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado is so important. By cancelling the college debt for some 21,000 students who re-enroll in City Colleges, Mayor Lightfoot and Chancellor Salgado acknowledge two important facts: first, that the increasing cost of college limits opportunity for students who are least able to afford it, and second, that it is high time to get serious about investing in the tens of thousands of residents who started their journey to a degree or credential but were unable to complete it. This debt forgiveness program also represents a modest investment toward rectifying the economic injustice heaped on the backs of Chicago's black and brown communities for decades.

A 2017 Brookings Institute report described a crisis in which black student borrowers with a Bachelor's degree default at a rate five times higher than their white peers--20% versus 4%, respectively, making it no surprise that the wealth gap between black and white America has persisted. City Colleges of Chicago's investment announced this week can go a long way toward reversing this trend for the largely black and brown students who would be Fresh Start's major beneficiaries.

This important investment in our city's future should not stand alone but should be matched by other public and private colleges and universities in and around our city, and should provide the blueprint on how to aggressively prioritize racial equity now and in the future.

Here are 5 other steps that colleges and universities should take today to make good on their email messaging about racial equity:

  1. Permanently eliminate SAT and ACT from their admissions decisions.
  2. Eliminate or radically reduce developmental education courses which limit opportunities for black and brown students.
  3. Commit substantial resources to recruiting and retaining black and brown faculty.
  4. Make eliminating the racial gap in degree completion the highest priority for the institution and commit to sharing disaggregated data on completion and student progress.
  5. Actively recruit in every single high school in the city of Chicago to ensure that our institutions, especially our public institutions, represent the diversity of our student population.

If cash-strapped City Colleges can make this kind of investment in its future and racial justice at the same time, so can others.

Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D., is the founding executive director of the Partnership for College Completion, a nonprofit promoting policies, systems, and practices to ensure all students in Illinois graduate from college and achieve their career aspirations.

Source: https://www.chicagobusiness.com/opinion/city-colleges-makes-bold-move-toward-equity

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Illinois Higher Education Leaders Withholding Judgment On Pritzker's Budget Bet


February 21, 2020


The budget plan unveiled by Gov. JB Pritzker's this week holds back funding increases for public schools and higher education if a proposed graduated income tax doesn't pass in November, endangering funding for two of his top priorities.

Some public school advocates and state leaders reacted swiftly, expressing disappointment and anger at the prospect of losing out on $150 million in new state funding.

But there has been little outcry among higher education leaders. This comes even though a $55 million increase for public universities and a $15 million increase for community colleges hangs in the balance. If voters don't approve the graduated income tax, that money won't materialize under the governor's budget plan.

"The higher education funding is absolutely necessary for us right now. At the same time I understand the money may not be there," University of Illinois at Chicago Chancellor Michael Amiridis said on Thursday. "They have to balance the budget. So I'm glad it's part of the budget and I hope it will be realized eventually."

Amiridis went as far as to describe Illinois' current higher education landscape as undergoing a "renaissance" at an event with the governor at the UIC campus.

"We have a governor who understands the importance of access to education, especially for low-socioeconomic background students," Amiridis told a crowd of university officials in the middle of the UIC library, as students chatted and hunched over books at tables nearby. "[He] not only talks about it, but also works to support it financially."

Illinois lawmakers increased general funding for the state's public colleges and universities funding by 8.2% last year, the largest percentage jump in nearly three decades. The increase drew applause after years of underinvestment and two years where public universities had to live with drastically reduced state appropriations during the budget impasse.

Pritzker's public support after that tumultuous time could explain why higher education leaders are quick to support him now, despite the proposal that could leave them with no budget increase next year..

Governors State University President Elaine Maimon said she believes the governor wants to do whatever he can to support higher education And the three higher education boards in Illinois touted the governor's proposal in a press release.

"This second year of increased investment signals that we have a champion who understands how important higher education is to students, families, employers, and the state as a whole," Ginger Ostro, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said in a statement.

The release did not mention that the funding is contingent on the graduated income tax. Instead, it focused on other funding proposals that are not reliant on passage of the tax, including increased money for need-based tuition grants, known as the Monetary Award Program.

Pritzker wants to make an additional $50 million available for low-income students to use toward tuition, increasing the total amount to over $500 million for the first time in decades.

He also set aside 15% of that money specifically for community college students, which state leaders believe would make community college tuition-free for all eligible students with family income under $45,000.

"The investment in a MAP set-aside for community college students is a commitment to equity, access and attainment for working families in Illinois," Brian Durham, executive director of the Illinois Community College Board, said in the release. "This set-aside will allow community college students to make decisions knowing they will have the support of the state."

Pritzker also proposed adding $27 million to the College Illinois! Program, which lets families save for college for a future student. He said the fund will run out of money in six years if the state doesn't put money toward the program. This program is also contingent on the graduated income tax, according to Pritzker's proposal.

He also wants to fund statewide implementation of the national college application so students could apply to all public-four year universities at the same time using one application. If included in the final budget, Illinois would be the first state to implement this policy. This is seen as another way to encourage students to remain in-state for college. Most Illinois students are already using the Common App, but for out-of-state schools. Pritzker also continued funding the merit-based AIM High grants, another way lawmakers have tried to attract Illinois students to enroll in-state.

State groups focused on higher education, including the Partnership for College Completion in Chicago, also said they understand the governor's decision to make the higher education funding increases contingent on new revenued. But they said it's important to keep advocating for increased investment.

"The governor and the General Assembly have demonstrated a willingness to invest in our students and our institutions that is noteworthy given our state's recent history," Kyle Westbrook, executive director of Partnership for College Completion, said in an email. "But we'll only be in a renaissance period when every eligible low-income student has the funding necessary to enroll in one of our colleges; when those colleges have student populations that are representative of our state's population; and when underrepresented minorities are graduating at the same rates as other students."

Northeastern Illinois University president Gloria Gibson had no comment on the issue. The University of Illinois system did not return multiple requests for comment. 

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.

​Original article: https://www.npr.org/local/309/2020/02/21/808094994/illinois-higher-education-leaders-withholding-judgment-on-pritzker-s-budget-bet

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How community colleges are supporting low-income black, Latino students

How community colleges are supporting low-income black, Latino students

January 3, 2020


Growing up in the Northwest suburbs, Daliyah Sanders often felt isolated from her peers as the only black student in her class practically since kindergarten through high school.

"It's been my reality my entire life," said Sanders, 19, of Schaumburg.

It's why connecting with peers and professors in college was an important motivator for Sanders to stay in school. That and getting a tuition-free full ride at Harper College in Palatine through the One Million Degrees program, which helps hundreds of community college students succeed in the classroom and beyond.

Sanders transferred to Harper from a four-year college in Chicago that didn't offer her the personalized attention she needed. Harper, she realized, was the better option because of the supports it offers minority students, such as tuition assistance, mentoring and networking.

"I chose this program because ... my friend talked about how good of an experience it was. ... I liked the overall help it was giving to students," said Sanders, who learned about the program as a student at Hoffman Estates High School.

Low-income minority students, like Sanders, increasingly are ditching four-year institutions due to rising tuition costs and lack of supports.

Community colleges are positioned uniquely to help these students through career path programs tailored to what local employers need, said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion.

"They are deeply embedded. They are closer to the communities, to the high schools," Westbrook said. "They have been building dual-credit, dual-enrollment options for high schools that can be major access avenues for low-income student populations."

Nearly a third of students at suburban community colleges come from low-income families and receive assistance through federal Pell grants and state Monetary Award Program grants. Many colleges have adopted programs and policies that help black, Latino and low-income students complete degree programs and transfer to four-year universities.

Elgin Community College offers robust mentoring services, including peer mentoring, for its black and Latino students, who comprise roughly 4% and 48%, respectively, of the college's student population.

"We also have a mandatory advising program ... requiring certain groups of students that we've identified as having some needs to meet with their advisers before they enroll for the semester," said David Rudden, ECC managing director of institutional research.

Other interventions include expanding outreach to Latino students through the Organization of Latin American Students club. The college's Spartan Food Pantry and financial literacy program also are geared toward serving the low-income student population.

College of Lake County in Grayslake is partnering with area high schools that have higher populations of low-income black and Latino students -- North Chicago, Round Lake, Waukegan and Zion-Benton -- to provide career counseling and support.

One such experiment places a CLC college transitions coach at Mundelein High School to build relationships with students and families, and help them through the financial aid and application processes.

"Rarely it's the academic aspect that is the deterrent for student success," CLC President Lori Suddick said. Rather, it's about "affordability, not knowing how to navigate the system, and understanding how to successfully advocate for oneself within an environment that (isn't) always designed in ways to benefit people."

CLC is supporting students' basic needs through an on-campus food pantry where they can grab a snack and get free groceries, hygiene products and clothing. It also provides emergency funds, such as if a student has a flat tire or a household problem.

Students without home internet access or a personal computer can check out Chromebooks or use CLC's library hot spots. Officials also are adopting open education resources to eliminate textbook costs and creating dual-credit programs for high schoolers. The college's three campuses -- Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan -- house career path programs tailored to the needs of the communities they serve.

The college recently changed its policy of dropping students for not paying the previous semester's fees. Once dropped, students often don't re-enroll. Students now can remain enrolled while paying overdue fees through a payment plan.

Harper partners with Barrington Area Unit District 220, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Northwest Suburban High School District 214 for its Summer Scholars program. It enrolls students coming from high school lacking skills, first-generation and underrepresented students, and those with disabilities or whose English and math skills are not up to college level.

"They get to come on campus ahead of the rest of the fall class, get an opportunity to meet students, and form friendships and bonds," said Sheryl Otto, Harper associate provost for student affairs.

Based on first-semester performance, students are eligible for a monetary award toward second-semester tuition and fees.

"It is to try and help keep them motivated and keep that momentum encouraging them to enroll," Otto said. "It's much harder once we lose those students to get them back into the institution."

Harper's partnership with One Million Degrees provides more comprehensive services targeting similar populations, helping them earn associate degrees and transfer to baccalaureate programs.

Students get support through tutoring assistance, workshops, academic advisers and personal/professional mentors. Between financial aid and scholarships through the Harper College Educational Foundation, students in the program pay no tuition costs.

Currently, 160 students are enrolled in the program -- about 10% are black, while black students comprise 4% of Harper's total student population. Of last year's batch, 85% of students successfully completed the course.

College of DuPage has hosted a black student leadership conference for the last five years to engage high school students and help them understand what it means to be college-ready. COD is working on transfer partnerships with historically black colleges and universities for its roughly 7% black student population and will host a hip-hop summit this spring.

"We are trying to do things to make it an environment for African American students so they feel like they belong here," said Mark Curtis-Chavez, COD provost of academic and student affairs.

This year, COD hosted it's first Latino Leaders Luncheon with community leaders from throughout DuPage County. The college has a growing Latino student population -- nearly 27% -- and officials are starting to recruit students directly at the high schools.

"Our goal is to increase the success rates of African American and Latino students by 4% by the end of next year," Curtis-Chavez said. "Success means three things for us: persistence, graduation and transfer."

Source: https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20200103/how-community-colleges-are-supporting-low-income-black-latino-students 

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Rising tuition makes college access harder for low-income students


January 3, 2020


Rising tuition and state underfunding of public colleges and universities has put access and affordability out of reach for low-income students, experts say.

The impact is being felt most acutely by black students whose enrollment in four-year colleges has steadily declined, according to a report by the nonprofit Partnership for College Completion.

The group works with colleges and universities to improve completion rates for low-income, minority and first-generation students. It found 11,100 fewer black students attended Illinois' public and private, nonprofit institutions in 2017 compared to 2007.

"We have seen a mass exodus of black students from higher education in Illinois over the last several years," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion.

On the flip side, Latino students disproportionately are enrolling in community colleges and are about 30% less likely to transfer to four-year institutions than white students, another Partnership report shows.

The declining funding of colleges and universities has led to students leaving Illinois for nearby states, Westbrook said.

For a student whose family makes less than $30,000 a year, the cost of attending a public four-year college is about $12,800 per year -- 50% more than the Midwestern average. That same student would pay yearly about $17,500 to attend a private four-year college, about $22,000 at a for-profit institution, and around $6,200 to attend a community college in Illinois, the report shows.

Meanwhile, overall state appropriation for Illinois public universities has declined by more than 50% from 2002 to 2018. State funding of the Monetary Award Program grant for low-income students has remained static during that period, the report shows.

"Universities have passed those costs onto students," Westbrook said. "Students who can least afford it are the (ones) being priced out."

State funding has not kept pace with rising tuition costs or the increase in the number of MAP-eligible students. About 46% of eligible students receive MAP grants. Students are awarded a maximum of $4,900.

"The award covers only about 34% of tuition and fees at our public universities. And not every student who is eligible actually receives one," Westbrook said.

The group recommends increasing state funding for public institutions serving large populations of low-income students as well as the MAP grant -- awarded based on financial need. It also urges creating a task force for an equity-driven funding formula for higher education.

Source: https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20200103/rising-tuition-makes-college-access-harder-for-low-income-students 

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