PCC Quarterly—Letter from the Executive Director—October 2021

Dear Partners,

I am so pleased to be writing to you in my new capacity as the second Executive Director of PCC, succeeding our founding Executive Director Dr. Kyle Westbrook last month. I am honored to have the opportunity to lead PCC's talented team in this next chapter, while continuing to expand our work with you – our partners – as you make progress on our shared aspirations for greater racial and socioeconomic equity across Illinois' higher education system.

As we begin a new academic year and celebrate Hispanic Heritage this month, I want to draw attention to why our equity efforts must result in tangible action for our Latinx students. Hispanic Heritage has been recognized and celebrated in the U.S. in some form since the late 1960s, with the September 15 kick-off chosen for its connection to the timing of independence of several Latin American countries. Most of our partner colleges and universities have hosted or will host virtual and in-person events to recognize the celebration, as nearly all of our partner colleges and universities in the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) Initiative are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs - 17) or emerging HSIs (5). Among all Latinx undergraduates in Illinois, 42% attend ILEA colleges and universities. Collectively, just over one-quarter of all of students in ILEA institutions are Latinx – representing more than 40,000 potential future graduates of your institutions[1] and with many more following in their footsteps each year. That represents an incredible opportunity and responsibility for our partners' equity efforts to result in tens of thousands of additional degrees for Illinois' Latinx students.

The work on this front matters a great deal. Latinx adults are underrepresented among associate and bachelor's degree earners in every state.[2]According to the Education Trust, only 20.4% of Latinx adults in Illinois have a college degree – a 30 point disparity with White adults. In Illinois, Latinx students represent 24.9% of associate degree seekers, earning a grade of A- from the Education Trust in terms of proportionality to the state's population, and 18.8% of bachelor's degree seekers, earning a grade of C-. In terms of degree completion, as we know, we fare worse. Regarding how well the percentage of degrees awarded to Latinx undergraduates reflects the racial and ethnic composition of the population in Illinois, we receive a D for associate degrees conferred and an F for bachelor's degrees.[3]

We know that representation matters and therefore strategies are needed to achieve greater diversity among faculty, staff, and administration. The work here too is extremely urgent, as in 2018 Latinx women and men made up only 6% of all full-time faculty in the U.S.[4]

When we look to solutions to address the urgency of reversing these inequities, we at PCC believe our two most powerful levers are policy change (state and federal) and institutional-level actions on policy and practice led by leaders at all levels within colleges and universities, all of which must be supported by data and research. Our many partners in ILEA colleges and universities in the state legislature, state agencies, and in other nonprofit and advocacy organizations are showing what is possible when higher education takes responsibility for its student outcomes.

In our next chapter as an organization, as this work continues and expands, we look forward to documenting and elevating the stories of how our state's institutions and systems changed course and truly became a system for all Illinoisans. I hope you will continue to support PCC in its efforts to advance equity in Illinois higher education: ensuring that Illinois' Latinx students and other student groups that have historically been underserved and minoritized have access to the resources and supports they need to access and complete college and pursue their career aspirations.


In partnership for equity,

Lisa

Email me to share your thoughts at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or connect with me on Twitter at @Lili_Castille. I'd love to discuss Latinx authors we're reading this month -- you can find excellent book recommendations here, here, and here.


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[1] Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) Enrollment & Degree System http://www.ibhe.org/EnrollmentsDegrees/

[2] Broken Mirrors: Latino Student Representation at State Public Colleges and Universities (Education Trust) https://edtrustmain.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/10123122/Broken-Mirrors-Latino-Student-Representation-at-State-Public-Colleges-and-Universities-September-2019.pdf

[3] State Equity Report Card – Illinois http://stateequity.org/state/illinois

[4] National Center for Education Statistics https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/csc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more from our September PCC Policy quarterly now.

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

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

Letter from the Executive Director

When we look to solutions to address the urgency of reforming inequitable structures in higher education, we at PCC believe our two most powerful levers are policy change (state and federal) and institutional-level actions on policy and practice led by leaders at all levels within colleges and universities, all of which must be supported by data and research. Our many partners in ILEA colleges and universities, in the state legislature, state agencies, and in other nonprofit and advocacy organizations are showing what is possible when higher education takes responsibility for its student outcomes.

—Read Lisa Castillo Richmond's full letter here

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Snapshot of Federal Higher Education Policy

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

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

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

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Snapshot of Illinois Higher Education Policy

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

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

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

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States Policy We're Watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) Happenings

2021 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit

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

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

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

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

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Upcoming Events

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

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Dear PCC Partners,

It is my honor and pleasure to be writing to you as the second Executive Director of PCC, succeeding our founding ED Dr. Kyle Westbrook in August. I have worked alongside Kyle over the past five years to build this organization, and it has been the most rewarding experience of my professional life. PCC's talented team; deeply committed policy partners; bold, thoughtful, and innovative institutional partners; and the significant work that remains ahead of us present promising opportunities for PCC to continue in its pursuit to address longstanding inequities in Illinois' higher education system.

I grew up in Northern Illinois, the daughter of an electrician and a devoted mostly stay-at-home mom who also kept the books for their business. I was the first in my family to go to college, a fact that I only considered in moments of frustration or difficulty, such as when I was navigating the college application process or struggling with the rigor of my college courses and juggling jobs. I was always aware that it was a privilege for me to be in college, and that I had many advantages others did not. It wasn't until I was working in education after college that I learned I was a "first generation college student", which took me down a path of trying to understand the dismal data on how the U.S. was failing Black students, Latinx students, Indigenous students, students who needed financial supports, and first generation students – this despite the 'college for all' mantra. How could the often heroic efforts of students, combined with expanding numbers of dedicated programs of academic, social, emotional, and financial supports for college students be insufficiently matched to the challenge? Of course, the answer to that question involves an understanding of the deeply ingrained, systemic, and historical nature of our educational inequities, in how our systems are designed and funded, and often codified in law. Over a career of studying these issues, consuming data, and witnessing firsthand the stories of many students across the country, I know this to be true. And when you see this – you begin to see it everywhere.

Today there is a much greater awareness of these structural inequities in higher education than there was certainly a decade ago, or even when PCC began in 2016. When we look to solutions to address the urgency of reforming these systems, we at PCC believe our two most powerful levers are policy change (state and federal) and institutional-level actions on policy and practice led by leaders at all levels within colleges and universities, all of which must be supported by data and research. Our many partners in ILEA colleges and universities, in the state legislature, state agencies, and in other nonprofit and advocacy organizations are showing what is possible when higher education takes responsibility for its student outcomes.

In our next chapter as an organization, as this work continues and expands, we look forward to documenting and elevating the stories of how our state's institutions and systems changed the equity narrative and truly became a system for all Illinoisans.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to build an equitable higher education system in this state. We are grateful to be on this journey with you.

In partnership for equity, 

Lisa Castillo Richmond

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PCC Celebrates Five Years & Counting

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

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

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

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

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Joint Statement in Support of SB815 Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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


Advance Illinois

Partnership for College Completion

Women Employed

Young Invincibles

Illinois Higher Education Network 


8/24/21

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

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Dear PCC Partners and Friends:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Beth Swanson 
Board Chair

Liz Thompson
Board Co-Chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PCC Executive Director Letter June Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Newsletter

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read PCC's June Policy Quarterly Newsletter today.

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

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

Letter from the Executive Director

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

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Snapshot of Federal Higher Education Policy

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

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

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

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

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

Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Upcoming Events

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

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 📢 Take Action 1-2-3 📢

READ & SHARE.

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

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

A Special Thank You Regarding SB815

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

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

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Senator Kimberly A. Lightford

Chicago, IL - June 1, 2021

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

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

Representative Carol Ammons

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

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

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

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

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

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 Letter from the Executive Director

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

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 Snapshot of Federal Higher Education Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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Snapshot of Illinois Higher Education Policy

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

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

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

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

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

See PCC's full legislative agenda for 2021 here. 

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Other States' Bills We're Tracking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) Happenings

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

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

The strategies in the Equity Plans include:

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

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

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Upcoming Events

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📢 Take Action 1-2-3 📢

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

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

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IL State Sen. Scott Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read PCC's first Policy Quarterly newsletter today.

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PCC Executive Director Introduces New Higher Ed Policy Quarterly Newsletter

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Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Read the full blog at PCC's Medium page

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

MA:

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

MA:

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

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


Learn more about the ILEA initiative today. 

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2021 ILEA Winter Equity Institute Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Institute by the Numbers:

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

Marisol

1. What is your current role/title?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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