Which Students Are 'College-Ready'? Reforming Inequitable College-Readiness Measures amid COVID-19


Jennifer Hernandez, PCC Policy Intern | October 27, 2020

Through the countless articles about inequities in access to online AP tests, learning pods, and the overall digital divide, COVID-19 has brought long-standing and new educational disparities under a harsh, unwavering spotlight. As students transition from high school to college, there are further divides to consider. One of them is an often overlooked and deeply consequential hurdle in the college enrollment process: course placement.

Nearly 46% of Illinois' high school graduates who enroll in a community college are placed and enroll in developmental coursework (also referred to as remedial coursework) in at least one subject, with students of color disproportionately represented. Despite research challenging the efficacy and equity of using standardized tests and high-stakes placement exams for course placement, many colleges still rely on test scores to determine whether students are ready for college-level classes. As COVID-19 exacerbates inequities in access to test prep and technology, without placement reform, Black and Latinx students and students from low-income communities could be disproportionately locked out of college-level courses, even at our most accessible community colleges.

In response to COVID-19 disruptions, the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) released placement guidelines to help Illinois colleges better determine students' readiness for college-level courses and reduce the need for students to enroll in developmental education to make up for perceived or actual learning loss.

The guidelines recommend that colleges expedite implementation of ICCB's Final Placement Recommendations and use GPA in place of other assessments when those assessments are unavailable or difficult to access. Regardless, if a student's GPA indicates that they are ready for college-level English (cumulative GPA of 3.0/4.0) or math (cumulative GPA 3.0/4.0 with successful completion of a 4th year of math), the guidelines recommend that the student should not be enrolled in developmental education. ICCB's recommendations also go beyond placement, adding guidelines for assisting students who do not meet the recommended cut-off scores and reducing their time in developmental education, so that students don't fall further behind.

ICCB's emphasis on GPA is a pointed one. Studies on college readiness have indicated that GPA is a better measure of a student's academic performance and potential than ACT and SAT scores, which are skewed by income and race—they reflect differences in wealth, not preparedness. With all the buzz about Zutoring (Zoom-based private tutoring) exacerbating academic disparities between the rich and poor, the reality is, this draws on a legacy of ACT and SAT prep services that have given an edge to students from wealthier, White families since those tests began. Research also calls into question the accuracy of college placement exams such as ACCUPLACER and ALEKS, showing that many students are placed into developmental education when what they really need is tutoring or concurrent supports. Based upon arbitrary and inconsistent cut scores on a single test, students can be enrolled at the same college but be separated by "ready" and "not ready," furthering the educational divide.

The Dev Ed Debate and The Case for Reform

Currently, most colleges use developmental education as a starter kit for students to avoid early failure and transition into college-level coursework. Open-access institutions in particular, including community colleges, need to be able to support students who are not yet ready to take on college-level coursework on their own. Those in favor of traditional developmental education (i.e. separate, pre-college courses for English and Math) argue that these courses allow underrepresented and underprepared students to access colleges where they would otherwise not be allowed to enroll in the first place. From this view, developmental education is designed to increase equity in higher education by affording access. However, research over the years has shown that no identifiable student group benefits from traditional developmental education, and this approach is actually perpetuating inequities in completion. Students are getting in the door, but the question is, why aren't traditional models opening doors to college-level courses? And how can new approaches to developmental education better support students progress toward completion?

Because developmental education is not college-level coursework, students taking these classes rarely earn college credits and must take more classes to complete a college degree, and because developmental education classes typically cost just as much as any other college class, students can run out of financial aid before they are able to complete their degree. Students in developmental education are less likely to graduate, and community college students enrolled in developmental education are less likely to successfully transfer to a four-year university to complete a bachelor's degree. These issues are disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx students, who are more likely to be placed into developmental education and less likely to complete.

By following ICCB's guidance this year and years to come, colleges can help shrink these equity gaps. ICCB encourages colleges to address learning loss and help more students become college-ready without traditional developmental education, by providing alternatives such as tutoring, writing workshops, and other wraparound services designed to bring students up to speed. ICCB recommends that institutions provide these concurrent services to support students who would otherwise be placed into developmental education. Meanwhile, such students would enroll directly in credit-bearing courses and make up for learning loss without having to play catch-up the next semester and beyond.

The efforts to analyze the benefits and drawbacks of developmental education placement have been in the works pre-pandemic. The SJR 41 Advisory Committee, convened by the Illinois General Assembly, was tasked with taking stock of Illinois' developmental education policies and practices. Released on July 1, the Committee's report on scaling reforms lays a blueprint for building evidence-based, context-sensitive reform to support every student. The idea is not to throw students into the deep end and hope they swim. Rather, reforms to developmental education aim to equip students with the skills they need to swim and the chance to do so.

Next Steps and Challenges to Implementation

ICCB's statement on utilizing the placement guidelines in light of COVID-19 reflects the fact that many colleges have not yet implemented ICCB's guidelines or have not adopted them fully. Many colleges that use "multiple measures" in the placement process still rely solely on placement exams and standardized test scores. To find out which public colleges and universities are implementing ICCB's placement recommendations, click here.

Along with the challenges of moving to socially distant instruction, providing wraparound services is an added challenge for underfunded colleges who are also experiencing losses in revenue and uncertainty in the fall. Our most under-resourced colleges will bear the brunt of these impacts—but their students stand to benefit the most from ICCB's guidance. Successful implementation of effective wraparound supports will require additional investment from the state or targeted use of federal CARES funds. Supporting all students requires recognition that a problem exists and a concentrated effort to solve it. Developmental education is among the most important challenges colleges and their students will be facing in an already tumultuous year.

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Guest Blog: Fallen Flat on the Shoulders of My Students


For too long, Illinois' working and low-income residents have borne the brunt of the state's 'flat tax.' A fair tax would ensure the state's wealthiest pay their fair share and Illinois' working and low-income residents have greater access to realizing their dreams - including going to college.

Keisha Rembert

Keisha Rembert | October 2020 
Keisha Rembert is an Assistant Professor at National Louis University. She is a Teach Plus Illinois Policy Fellowship alumna, 2019 Illinois History Teacher of the Year and NCTE's 2019 Outstanding Middle Level Educator in the English Language Arts. The ideas expressed in this piece are the personal opinions of the author and not reflective of or connected to her employer.

My students are the essential workers you see stacking shelves at your local grocery store, the child care workers who are caring for and keeping young children safe, and the ones at the drive-thru window serving you while the world seems paused. They work, attend classes, take care of siblings and ill relatives and oftentimes, have been the sole support for their families during this pandemic. They are the heroes we herald and laud in this time of crisis.

While they gave the lion's share of their energy to care for us all, they are burdened by an unfair tax system that requires more of them still -- as low-income and working people in Illinois pay twice as much as wealthy people in the name of a "flat tax."

My students have given and Illinois has taken.

It is time to right that wrong. A fair tax structure in Illinois means the wealthiest among us pay their fair share, and we do not leave the hefty financial burden to marginalized communities who have long carried this tremendous load.What would a possible state revenue increase of $3 billion a year do for my students, our essential workers? The possibilities are innumerable. It could, first, make additional educational funding more readily available and accessible, enabling my students to continue the education they so desperately desire. Their educational dreams often rest in their ability to pay for their schooling. A fair tax structure could allow for more state-directed dollars to go to financial aid grants like the state's Monetary Award Program (MAP) that makes higher education feasible for them and other Illinoisans for whom college seems like an impossible dream.

With increased revenue and financial investments in higher education, my students mobility to the middle class and beyond is viable.The additional state revenue and financial support could also prevent institutions of higher learning from faltering as was the case for six Illinois institutions who closed their doors in 2019-20. There are educational deserts in our state--places where colleges and universities are virtually nonexistent. More places around the state could fall into this category as institutions have already experienced formidable cuts and are bracing for future cuts to state funding in the coming years.

These cuts impact my students most. They are the ones who have already been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. They are the ones already combatting an opportunity and equity gap.

Read Keisha Rembert's Chicago Sun-Times Letter to the Editor, "Vote for the fair tax to give my college students a fighting chance to get ahead"

My students work hard and deserve to enter a workforce eager and ready to welcome them. The current job and financial landscape look grim for them and without significant changes, like the fair tax amendment offers, the prospect of entering a healthy job market is unlikely with current double-digit unemployment rates. Inability to secure employment means a continuation and expansion of the existing wealth gap.

My students know the perils and feel the effects of Illinois not paying its bills year after year. They have lived with inadequate access to childcare and grown up in schools forced to cut teachers and without proper resources. They deserve more.

The fair tax amendment is a step toward creating a more equitable Illinois. A chance to remove the undue burden my students have been saddled with for far too long. It means more access, more funding, more resources to move Illinois forward. A vote for the fair tax amendment gives my students a chance to realize their dreams.

My mother always told me 'life is not fair.' I hated to hear it and wondered why life couldn't be more fair. Her mantra is essentially what the state of Illinois has been living by with its current tax system. Now is the time to make it fair--it's possible.

Learn more about what the fair tax could mean for Illinois Higher Education here.

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The Importance of Faculty Champions in Equity Work


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) developed their Equity Plans for their campuses, the role and engagement of faculty voices was integral, and the theme of our 2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit - Engaging Faculty Champions in Equity Work - aptly reflects this. When we think of champions, we think of people who are willing to advocate for a cause they strongly believe in and want to support. With greater numbers of faculty champions on our campuses, ILEA members and other institutions doing equity work move closer to creating an equity-minded culture focused on making sure all students succeed.

As the Partnership for College Completion gears up for next week's summit, hear from faculty champions at Harold Washington College, Kishwaukee College, and Saint Xavier University on increasing student readiness, empowering faculty of color, and teaching and practice through an equity lens for all faculty.

​Harold Washington College
Asif Wilson, PhD, Associate Dean of Instruction
Sandy Vue, Assistant Director - Research & Planning
Jackie Werner, Associate Dean of Instruction
Maria Ortiz, Faculty
Bernadette Limos, Director - Strategic Initiatives, Marketing & Communications.
​​​Kishwaukee College
Pernevlon Ellis Jr., MA,  
Interim Associate Dean, Office of Instruction, Formerly Assistant Professor of Sociology; classes taught include race and ethnic relations, introduction to criminology, marriage and family, and social problems.
Saint Xavier University​
Gina M. Rossetti, PhD
Professor of English and University Fellow for Student Success; Teach First Year composition classes, introductory literature classes, American literature, and literature/humanities courses in the Honors Program. I have been at Saint Xavier University since 2002.

Partnership for College Completion (PCC): A core belief of the ILEA community is that colleges and universities should move beyond a focus on college readiness among students and instead strive to be student-ready as institutions of higher education. What does this mean to you and your work?

Harold Washington College (HWC): The position of being college ready may negatively place blame on the student as the sole purveyor of academic success. This notion also assumes that colleges and universities are in no need of transformation. Being student ready requires that we, as schools of higher education turn inward to reflect and transform the harmful mechanisms—practices, policies, and structures—that limit the possibility of living our missions.

Pernevlon Ellis, Jr., MA (ELLIS): Leaders of every postsecondary institution must engage in strategic planning that allows for the greatest flexibility to achieve its mission and vision. This requires setting and assessing realistic goals and making data-informed decisions. The ability to respond to trends in data to use resources appropriately to meet the needs of its stakeholders. The data that exists on achievement gaps must inform policy and practices to address the ability of colleges and universities to achieve equity. The mission and vision of each institution I have read can't be achieved with addressing these gaps.

Gina M. Rossetti, PhD (ROSETTI): For me, I believe it means beginning with a foundational value: every student is capable of learning. When we focus on only the student's readiness for higher education, we are attempting to mold him/her into a pre-packaged spot. To offer a more welcoming environment, institutions ought to look at policies, practices, curricula to ensure that all are inclusive for a diverse student body.

Pernevlon Ellis Jr.

PCC: A threat to the long-term success of faculty of color is racial battle fatigue among other factors. In what ways should institutions intervene to empower the success of faculty of color?

HWC: Schools, including spaces of higher education, inherently were not designed with people of color in mind (their histories make this very clear). The supposed invisible offensive mechanisms, as Chester Pierce (1970) called them, are as painful as the physical harm our bodies experience. These assaults not only leave staff, admin, and faculty of color (and other minoritized identities) feeling a sense of isolation, and can have long term negative health outcomes. Professionals of color working in schools of higher education need to feel a sense of belonging, a sense power, and a sense of community if the rates of push out (and unfortunately death) are ever to decrease.

ELLIS: Postsecondary institutions must assess and respond to the structural and cultural barriers to success for its faculty from historically marginalized groups. This includes identifying and addressing the barriers in the process of recruitment, development, and retention. Once barriers have been identified leaders of these institutions must facilitate the inclusion of organizational goals to address these as part of the strategic planning process. This will ensure resources are in place to address the micro insults, assaults and invalidations that lead to racial battle fatigue.

ROSETTI: A couple of approaches can be a faculty mentoring program for faculty mentors of color, which will assist new colleagues in both the tenure process, but also in onboarding colleagues so that they are welcomed into the institution. A second approach is that there must be a commitment from all colleagues at the institution that equity and access are important for all, and that matters are not articulated by faculty members of color. In other words, White colleagues must also engage in an institutional equity scan, identifying with colleagues of color pitfalls and barriers, and working together to eliminate them.

Dr. Gina M. Rossetti

PCC: According to this year's ILEA Fall Summit keynote speaker, Dr. Estela Bensimon, "equity-minded individuals are aware of the sociohistorical context of exclusionary practices and racism in higher education." How can your college or university expand awareness of these exclusionary practices that harm faculty, staff and students of color?

HWC: When William Rainey Harper, president of University of Chicago, began advocating for community colleges in the early 1900s, he was not doing so to expand access and opportunity to those who previously not had. Furthermore, the land the University of Chicago was donated to Rockefeller by Illinois Senator Stephan Douglas, who built his wealth from the unpaid labor of his slaves.

The histories of our school reveal their not-so-nice histories, bound in what bell hooks calls white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. By unearthing the oppressive legacies of our institutions (like the fact that Harold Washington College is built on the site of a jail where indigenous tribes were forced to sign treaties) we may be able to dream, and actualize, a world that doesn't reproduce the historical harm that our schools have.

ELLIS: Motivate employees to work individually and collectively to be a leading culturally competent institution. Encouraging white faculty, staff and administrators to lead these efforts to address the organization's failure to maintain a culture conducive to the retention and success of faculty and students from historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups. They also need to lean less on faculty and staff of color to do this work.

ROSETTI: First and foremost, we need to listen to the experiences of colleagues and students of color, whose experiences at the institution are often quite different than those experienced by Whites. Second, we need to act upon what we learn from such experiences, working together to identify and prioritize how we can address these barriers.

PCC: During this pandemic, how can faculty integrate an equity and inclusion lens into their teaching and practice?

HWC: We do not believe that creating more equitable contexts requires lots of funding, new positions, or consultants. The praxis required for this sort of transformation must be built on love, care, and compassion. A love that bounds seemingly different people together to develop new knowledge, and hopefully a love that can transform oppression in the world and our schools.

We call faculty in to be mindful of the ways in which their planning, instruction, and assessment align to students' lives, communities, and center justice. We call administrators in to be mindful of the potential inequitable and harmful consequences of the decisions they are empowered to make. We call staff in to be mindful that they are educators too, every caring and compassionate interaction the students you serve can have long lasting, and transformational impacts. Together, we all can create the conditions in our schools that honor each other, in all that we have to offer.

ELLIS: Faculty are working diligently to facilitate learning that allows students to achieve the mastery of knowledge and skills expected in every discipline. Information and communication technologies are allowing for great creativity in the delivery of course content. Ensuring that we all engage in positive micro-messaging in our communications with students will be important. Interaction with students should be empowering to help those without it to develop the grit necessary to achieve academic success while enduring the challenges that accompany this pandemic.

ROSETTI: In many ways, the pandemic has intensified gaps, particularly in terms of technology and access to it (whether it is Wifi or personal technological devices that are not shared among family members). As a faculty member, I meet one-on-one with my students throughout the semester, and the same approach can be enhanced via technology. These conferences occur—both as regularly scheduled meetings—but also after assignments where I have seen a student struggle with the project. In reaching out to the student, I show him/her that I care about his/her academic success, and that we can work together to make the success a reality.


Join PCC on Friday, October 16 from 11a-12p CT for our first Twitter Chat: The Importance of Faculty Champions in Equity Work. Follow us @partnershipfcc and use the hashtag #PCCchat.

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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Michelle Rothmeyer, Ed.D, Kishwaukee College

1. What is your current role/title?

I currently serve as the Vice President of Student Services at Kishwaukee College.

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

Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL Ed.D, Higher Education, Community College Leadership, 2020

Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, M.S.Ed, Adult & Higher Education, Student Affairs, 2010

Judson University, Elgin IL, B.A. Liberal Arts-Management & Leadership, 2000

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

Once I decided to return to college to pursue my master's and Doctorate degrees, both institutions I worked for supported my return, both emotionally and financially. Being a non-traditional, first generation student myself, I probably would not have returned to college without the encouragement of my supervisors and colleagues in the field.Once I decided that working in higher education was the career for me, focusing on learning more about higher education just made sense.I wanted to learn how to help students understand the importance of college and the best way to navigate their way through the process no matter what barriers were present.Each degree I completed allowed me the opportunity to take on new positions in higher education and additional opportunities for providing support for students.

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

My higher education career began as an Academic Advisor almost two decades ago.There were many times that I would meet with students and observe how they struggled to afford the tuition payment or the purchase of books, navigating the software programs that were needed to register and participate in classes, and make it through the first week of classes let alone complete their semester. It is the experiences I have been involved in since starting at Kishwaukee College in 2015 that make me appreciate the work we are doing to assist students who come to college with different needs. We have enhanced our advising model, added supportive services to assist our students with barriers they encounter while attending college.We added the TRIO Student Support Services and Upward Bound grants, we hired a Student Success Advisor who primarily works with students who are at-risk, and partnered with other offices on campus to provide the students the support services needed to complete their goals while in college.There is so much more ahead for us at Kish, under the Leadership of our President, Dr. Laurie Borowicz and our partnership with Partnership for College Completion.Our college is well on our way to improving equity for our students.We have an Equity Plan, an Equity Statement, and we are working with our college community to implement strategies for changing our culture.

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

As the Vice President of Student Services, each day I lead a team who impacts our students as they navigate college. Several of the new initiatives and changes the College has implemented since 2015 have taken place in Student Services. Most recently, we added a Student Success Advisor position where the primary focus was designed to serve at-risk students by providing proactive case management using a holistic approach that requires multiple touch points throughout the semester. Most of the students in the program come to college testing into developmental English and Math. In my mind, equity guides the work we do to ensure students succeed and to make sure students get the resources they need along the way to be successful. The focus in Student Services is to help our students find that success and complete their intended goals. Our strategies include: 

  • Cultural Competency in the classroom 
  • The hiring of diverse individuals for staff and faculty 
  • Providing Wrap Around Student Services 
  • Providing Developmental Education support for those students who come to Kish at-risk 
  • Retention and persistence leading to completion of our diverse populations and transition into work 

I am fortunate to be part of the Kish team who is building a program focused on equity for our students. Knowing what we have already accomplished and where we plan to go from here is exciting. Changing a culture takes time and the time is now for the Kish community.

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Moving Equity from the Margin to the Center: Releasing the Campus Wide ILEA Equity Plans


Julian Williams, Ph.D., Equity Program Manager | Aug 20, 2020

Eliminating disparities in degree attainment between Black and White students, Latinx and White students and Pell-receipt and non-Pell receipt students is no small task -- but it is the challenge that our 28 college and university partners publicly committed to addressing when they volunteered to join the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) initiative.

Across the nation institutions have eliminated gaps on their campuses when they have had leaders committed to equity and a plan to guide their work. Our ILEA partners joined the initiative because their leaders were committed to equity. The Partnership's task was to help them develop an Equity Plan, connected to but not the same as their institutional strategic plan, to eliminate inequities. 

ILEA began with the belief that institutions can eliminate gaps in degree attainment if they systematically examine their policies and practices to identify barriers to momentum, identify and implement institutional strategies that are proven or have promise to address inequities, and track and evaluate their efforts on an ongoing basis so that they can make adjustments as they learn what works and what does not work.

Developing the ILEA Equity Plan

ILEA began with 25 institutional partners in 2018; and has grown to 28 institutional partners in 2020. Our partners are community colleges and 4-year public and private institutions. While each institution is in the state of Illinois, they can differ significantly in size, culture, structure, and the students that they serve. So, we set out to design an equity plan structure that was common enough to be used across 28 different institutions, but not so prescriptive as to diminish what makes each institution unique.

We ultimately developed an equity plan structure that asked each institution to name and examine their existing disparities, set interim benchmarks for key leading indicators, identify institutional strategies to address their existing inequities, and to develop a process for tracking and evaluating their results so that they could learn from, iterate upon, and improve equity outcomes for their students.

The development of each plan was spearheaded by a dynamic group of cross-departmental and cross-functional campus leaders that we call the ILEA Leadership Team. Over the course of 18 months, each ILEA Leadership team organized, coordinated, and engaged stakeholders across their respective institutions to create their campus wide equity plan.

Supporting Equity Plan Development

To support the development of our partner's equity plans we developed a process that was high-touch, supportive, and responsive. Our supports included an: instruction guide, how-to webinar series, template document, and individualized feedback. The instruction guide explained the purpose of the plan and described each suggested section. The how-to webinar series complimented the instruction guide by providing live presentations about each section of the plan. The template provided an optional pre-formatted document that partners could use to embed their narrative, data, and charts. And lastly, and most importantly, each ILEA partner was paired with an Equity Program Manager from the Partnership that provided individualized feedback on their plan over the course of its development. Additionally, institutions will submit annual reflections about their equity plan implementation and the resulting student outcomes – successes, challenges and how they plan to adapt their plan in the year ahead based on lessons learned.

As a result of yearlong planning process, our ILEA partners will implement a wide range of institutional strategies to eliminate inequities in degree completion on their campuses. Some strategies are new to their institutions, while other strategies existed previously but will be refined or scaled to serve more students. Here is a list of some of the major institutional strategies that our ILEA partners will be implementing on their campus's this fall:

  1. First year mentoring programs (peer; faculty)
  2. New financial supports for students (emergency scholarships, completion/reengagement grants; population specific grants)
  3. Addressing basic needs and non-academic supports (food pantries, textbook reform, social-emotional learning, social belonging)
  4. Creating or better supporting student organizations related to student identity/belonging/culture (Black student unions, Spanish clubs)
  5. Reforming first year courses & sequences (gateway courses; college success courses, orientation; bridge programs)
  6. TRIO programs and additional targeted wraparound supports (McNair Scholars; Male Success Initiatives; Latino Success)
  7. Academic advising reforms (early alerts; targeted advising)
  8. Reforming developmental education courses/placement
  9. Creating population specific success committees and councils
  10. Providing faculty professional development (high impact teaching practices and cultural competency/responsiveness)

We are honored to have had the opportunity to partner with such a dynamic group of institutions and to support the development of their equity plans, which will provide a roadmap for their targeted approaches over the next several years. The institutional introspection was difficult, the development process was imperfect, and COVID-19 required every institution to operate differently nearly overnight – yet, they persisted. Their equity plans are a public display of their commitment to equity. We are thrilled to announce the release of the ILEA Equity Plans and excited to continue supporting our ILEA partners as they begin implementation this fall.

In Partnership,
Julian Williams, Ph.D.

Equity Program Manager | Partnership for College Completion 

Learn more about Equity Plans here.

ILEA Equity Speaks

Read perspectives from leaders at Morton College, Richard J. Daley College, and Roosevelt University about the mission driving their Equity Plan and experience developing it in the ILEA Equity Speaks Blog Series. 

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Guest Blog: ILEA Equity Speaks, Richard J. Daley College


Ahead of the upcoming public release of Equity Plans from partners of the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA), leaders at ILEA institution Richard J. Daley College shared highlights of two of their cross-departmental strategies to address identified equity gaps.

Read the full blog here:

Learn more about Daley College's Equity Plan, part of the public release of ILEA Equity Plans here.  For more about ILEA, visit here now.

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Guest Blog: ILEA Equity Speaks, Morton College

Guest Blog: ILEA Equity Speaks, Morton College

In conjunction with the public release of Equity Plans from partners of the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA), leaders at ILEA institution Morton College shared their experience developing their plan.

Read the full blog here:

Learn more about the ILEA Equity Plans here.

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Guest Blog: ILEA Equity Speaks, Roosevelt University

Guest Blog: ILEA Equity Speaks, Roosevelt University

In conjunction with the public release of Equity Plans from partners of the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA), leaders Katrina Coakley, Associate Provost for Student Success and Jamar Orr, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, at ILEA institution Roosevelt University center the importance of Equity Plans in working for justice for underrepresented students amid the drastic and disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic and widespread outcries for policing reform and social equality following the murder of George Floyd.

Read the full blog here:

Learn more about the ILEA Equity Plans here.

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PCC Letter to Illinois General Assembly Higher Education Committees


As advocates seeking to support institutions in eliminating racial equity gaps across Illinois colleges and universities, the Partnership for College Completion stands in solidarity with the Black community and their calls for justice. This unprecedented period shows how deeply ingrained racial injustice is within systems intended to serve the public, demonstrated by continued violence on the Black community at the hands of law enforcement, inequitable lending, and inequitable access to high-quality healthcare. In higher education, inequitable policies perpetuate college access and completion disparities, limiting Black students' higher education opportunities.

The Partnership recommends three critical policy changes that can have an immediate, significant effect on racial equity. Read the full letter here. 

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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Brandon Nichols, Ed.D, Olive–Harvey College

1. What is your current role/title?

I currently serve as Vice President, Academic Affairs.

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

Sociology – BS, University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign,

Clinical Psychology – MA, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC,

Counseling Psychology – Ed.D, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC

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

Mentorship and socialization opportunities were essential to my development, growth, success. For minoritized students, mentoring is often considered a crucial resource to foster support systems of role models and to garner the academic success. At my undergraduate and graduate institutions, mentor groups, extended new student orientation for students of color, social organizations, and guidance counseling for undeclared majors provided structure and knowledge gaps in navigating a path for successful completion.

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

It is gratifying to empower students in reaching their full potential by removing barriers that have historically impacted minoritized students. At Olive-Harvey College, we use a high-touch approach to engage every student to meet their needs to ensure success and completion for all students seeking a credential.

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

As Vice President of Olive-Harvey College, I am grounded in a person-centered and mission-driven approach, through a civic and equity lens. I am currently a member of the College's Illinois Equity Attainment Committee and supporter of the College's Equity Plan. The Plan details specific strategies to support academic success, social integration, and student completion. To support student completion efforts through equity, the College has developed tactics to refine classroom instruction, measuring learning, co-curricular learning, and civic. In my role, I am in support equity through the following​:

  • Faculty development of culturally responsive pedagogy and teaching

  • Multiple measures of learning assessments and tests to align with student learning preferences through face-to-face and hybrid modes of instruction

  • Social integration and exploratory co-curricular opportunities through field and work-based learning experiences

  • Civic engagement through public service events and social justice support (i.e. voter registration, trash clean-up, and community townhalls)

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Choosing Illinois Community Colleges: Investing in Our Communities

My college journey started at Illinois Central College (ICC), one of Illinois' 48 public community colleges located on a bluff overlooking the Illinois River. My commute from Peoria was 30 minutes by car, 60 by bus which I often had to take. I sometimes worked three jobs to pay for school. I was a scrappy B+ student in high school (HS) and immersed myself in my studies for 12 months before earning a transfer scholarship to Bradley University. That was 1980-1981.

When I reflect on my experiences as well as on the challenges college students today face, I think about the role community colleges play in our higher education ecosystem. My work with the Partnership for College Completion and the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative (ILEA) provides me an opportunity to support 17 Illinois community colleges who have committed to being agents of change to address racial and socio-economic disparities on their campuses that result in inequitable graduation rates (35% of all community colleges in Illinois). As I think about community colleges providing a better path forward for many students, three things come to mind:

1) Community: The roots of community colleges are diverse and deeply connected to partnerships with K-12 education, industry, healthcare and government in the communities they serve. These roots support the primary functions of community colleges: providing pathways to 4-year degrees, career and technical training, high school partnerships and continuing education. The communities where our state's community colleges operate include our nation's first public community college, Joliet Junior College (1901), Waubonsee Community College, named after the Potawatomi chief, Waubonsie, College of DuPage (the state's largest CC) and the seven City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), two of which are named for three slain civil rights leaders, Malcolm X College and Kennedy-King College. The communities where our state's community colleges serve a vital role are home to the Illinois Medical District, Mondelez International, Walgreens and United Airlines. In FY 2019, Illinois' 48 community colleges enrolled 664,973 students or nearly 36% of all students (highest across all sectors in the state). That means that across Illinois, one out of every three students who have utilized public services and accessed health care, participated in the local workforce, sent their children to local schools, and spent money in their local communities – essentially supporting their local economy – has been a community college student.

2) Choice: ICC was my only choice. It was affordable. Sometimes choice boils down to where you were born, how much wealth your family has and what kind of curve balls you have already faced before enrolling in college. Community colleges play an important role in providing access for many students who have historically been underserved. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, community colleges serve as the entry point to higher education for over 41% of all undergraduates, including 52% of all Latinx and 42% of all Black students. In 2015-2016, 59% of community college students received some form of financial aid, including federal grants (34%), federal loans (15%) and state aid (22%). Additionally, 29% identify as first generation and 15% are single parents.[1] That means one out of four students enrolling in colleges across the country, chose a community college as their starting point.

3) Costs: In 2018-2019, the annual tuition costs and fees for in-state students enrolling in 30 credit hours at public four-year colleges in Illinois ranged from $11,803 to $16,004.[2] For independent, non-profit colleges, it ranged from $7,600 to $57,006.[3] Comparatively, at IL community colleges, full-time, in-district tuition and fees ranged from $3,504 to $5,220.[4] Though costs are less at community colleges, students received fewer federal (11%) and state (10%) financial aid dollars compared to those at four-year public (federal 29%, state 65%) and private (federal 33%, state 21%) institutions in FY 2010-2011.[5] That means the cost of attending an Illinois community college is 50% less than the lowest cost at a public four-year institution, but not all of the students who need federal and state support to cover the costs receive it.

The cost of attending an Illinois community college is 50% less than the lowest cost at a public four-year institution, but not all of the students who need federal and state support to cover the costs receive it.

As we approach the 2020-2021 academic year, many more students may choose to stay closer to their communities. The pandemic, a loss of a job or caring for a loved one at home may force choices for some. For Latinx, Black, first generation and low-income students, racial and socio-economic systemic barriers have historically played a significant role in their choice. When we consider the social injustices playing out on our streets and the need for additional investment in our communities, we should also consider leveling the playing field for the college students who need it the most. Community colleges that are focused on equity in degree completion and increasing overall rates of student success require greater investment for our most vulnerable students.

My community and the support I received from caring professors and practitioners grounded my love for higher education, and my start at ICC helped shape me into the person I am today. Forty years later, I am certain there are many stories like mine waiting to be told across our prairies, rural areas, suburbs and urban communities. 

[1] American Association of Community colleges, 2020. Fast Facts 2020.

[2] IBHE Records, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Undergraduate based on 30 credit hours, Tuition and Required Fees, Room and Board for Full-Time, In-State Entering Undergraduate Students, 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 Academic Years.

[3] IBHE Records, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Undergraduate based on 30 credit hours, Tuition and Required Fees, Room and Board for Full-Time, First-Time Undergraduate Students, 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 Academic Years

[4] Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) Records, Annual Tuition and Required Fees, Room and Board for Full-Time, In-District Students at Public Community colleges, 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 Academic Years.

[5] IBHE Records, Student Financial Aid Survey, Distribution of Financial Aid Dollars in Illinois, All Students by Source, Sector, and Type For Fiscal Year 2010 -2011. 

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The Partnership Stands in Solidarity with Those Fighting for Racial Justice


To do the work that we do is to sit inside and with full awareness of the enduring and unaddressed legacy of racism and injustice on which this country was founded and that continues to permeate every sector of our democracy, including education. The fight for justice in policing practices, in labor and the workforce, in housing policy, in healthcare, in criminal justice, in education, is—as we have been reminded this spring with COVID-19 and now with outcries for justice following the murder of George Floyd in police custody—the fight of this generation, the fight giving wind to our work. 

We stand with others in seeking, with urgency, justice in the near term for Mr. Floyd and his family, and in the long term, justice wherein all institutions of our society ensure that Black Americans have equitable access to the physical safety, educational advancement, and economic prosperity in this country for which they have been long overdue.

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With FY21 Budget, IL Lawmakers Affirm Commitment to Higher Ed Amid Crisis


During this difficult time of prolonged mourning, Illinois' higher education system received a bit of good news this week. Despite bleak state revenue forecasts, with some projecting a budget shortfall as great as $7.4 billion in fiscal year 2021, legislators last Sunday passed a budget that maintains level funding for higher education, providing a sense of stability to students and institutions in an otherwise uncertain time.

In the past, budget crises and recessions have resulted in states making heavy cuts to higher education, with low-income students and students of color largely bearing the increased costs of college. In the face of COVID-19, several states are seeing history repeat itself. Colorado, Ohio, New Jersey, and others have proposed significant cuts to their higher education budgets. However, in this year's budget, the Illinois legislature chose a different path. While the budget will rely on additional federal relief, if the federal government does their part, level-funding will help keep the doors to higher education open for most Illinois students.

Notable highlights related to the Partnership's legislative priorities include:

  • $451 million allocated for the Monetary Award Program (MAP)
  • $50 million in discretionary federal funds allocated to higher education
  • Public university operations funded at FY20 levels
  • 5% increase to Illinois Community College Board (ICCB)
  • Creation of a college emergency grant program

As we celebrate Illinois maintaining its higher education investment during this crisis, this first step - a critical one in paving the way for a full, equitable recovery - must be one among other key actions to ensure adequate and equitable funding for the state's colleges and universities well into the future. Throughout and moving beyond this crisis, lawmakers will have to be responsive to the needs of financially-vulnerable students and institutions. Level-funding alone will not help Illinois address affordability and access for all Illinoisans, eliminate disparities in college completion that have existed within our institutions for decades, or reach our 2025 college degree attainment goals. To do so, Illinois must continue to distribute federal and state resources equitably, ensuring that low-income students have the support they need to enroll, persist, and graduate, and that lower-resourced institutions, which disproportionately serve large numbers of low-income students – including those in our state's diverse community college system – have adequate funding.

Our state legislators' show of support for a stable higher education system could not come at a more pivotal time: as the state reels from the fallout of an unprecedented public health crisis that will have serious economic implications for some time. Amidst all of this, Illinois colleges and universities – with significant strains on existing resources – have persisted in carrying on their missions, deploying critical resources to students and community members who have been most impacted by the virus and demonstrating their unique value to the future vitality of our state. As Illinois and federal lawmakers face the ongoing impact of COVID-19, their continued commitment to and investment in higher education will be critical to positioning Illinois for a faster and more robust economic recovery. 
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No Matter Where You Are, Illinois Colleges & Universities Matter

Lisa Castillo Richmond, PCC Managing Director | May 19, 2020

While the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on daily life for people across the globe, it has also brought to light the best of humanity, perhaps especially within higher education. In recent weeks, Illinois colleges and universities have carried on their missions by deploying critical resources to aid in students' ability to continue progressing toward degrees. It has become painfully clear how existing societal inequities in access to housing, food, healthcare, and employment have both been laid bare and exacerbated by COVID-19. Because of this, colleges and universities have mobilized overnight to continue academic programming, while working around the clock to meet the needs of those within their communities who have been most affected. It is because of Illinois' diverse and expansive higher education system that the state's pandemic response has been so comprehensive, with resources deployed so quickly and efficiently to all corners of the state.

The speed with which everything changed was dizzying. Closing campuses, which seemed unthinkable at the start of the semester and unlikely one month later, became inevitable by the beginning of March. Institutions, many of which offered very few courses online at the time, moved all their instruction and programming to a virtual environment in the matter of a week. Upon campus closures, students dispersed across the state and beyond, often facing new financial and environmental challenges that affected their learning. Technology had to be acquired, learned, and deployed with changes communicated to thousands. Gatherings of all kinds were postponed and canceled, while institutional policies had to be reconsidered. Through it all, our colleges and universities made it happen. Classes were convened virtually, coursework was completed, students advanced and many, now, have graduated.

But what happened in the classroom was just the beginning. Today, our colleges are not only expansive institutions of higher learning, but also significant providers of an array of social services and basic needs for students and their families. Institutions organized to increase access via telehealth services, supporting students with food insecurity through drive-thru food pantries, and continuing to pay student workers through the end of the academic term. They deployed emergency funds to cover rent, groceries, lost income, and costs associated with shifting to virtual learning, while giving out thousands of laptops, tablets and WiFi hotspots to support student connectivity and access to course materials.

Read some of the IL Higher Ed Matters stories below:​​​​​​​​​​​​

Amid this pandemic, we've also seen how the work and responsibility of higher education extends beyond the confines of the campus into their neighboring communities, where they provide solutions and create knowledge broadly. Advanced manufacturing equipment and 3-D printers were used across colleges and universities to produce personal protective equipment for healthcare providers. Supplies and meals were donated. New programs were launched to train Illinoisans for jobs that would be created to enable citizen movement after lockdown and prior to widespread vaccination. Thousands of faculty and alumni from dozens of institutions are working in medicine, immunology, epidemiology, infectious disease, public health policy, and other disciplines in hospitals, clinics, labs, and statehouses across the country. They are architects transforming spaces for public health purposes. They are scholars, contributing research that helps identify the many ways in which we can move from lockdown and shutdown to recovery and a more equitable society.

Illinois' colleges and universities will be at the forefront of that recovery. They will be the places to which Illinois' students return, and where the state's workforce turns to reskill or upskill for the jobs of tomorrow. They will be where breakthroughs are produced that will improve the lives of citizens. They will be places of investment, where science, innovation, and imagination will be used to limit the impacts of the next pandemic. Illinois' economic recovery depends on a healthy, thriving, and diverse network of colleges and universities that is accessible and affordable to all, and that extends from Rockford to Carbondale and from Quincy to Chicago. #ILHigherEdMatters

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Illinois Higher Ed Matters Week: Recognizing Illinois’ Higher Ed Heroes

The Partnership for College Completion (PCC) is pleased to announce May 11-15, 2020 as Illinois Higher Ed Matters Week – highlighting the many ways colleges and universities across the state are serving students and their local, state, and national communities during the COVID-19 crisis.

During Illinois Higher Ed Matters Week, institutions are sharing their stories of – what PCC calls "higher ed heroism" – to call attention to the critical importance of Illinois' public and private nonprofit 2- and 4-year institutions of higher education to the state's recovery from this unprecedented event.

As COVID-19 continues to make a devastating and disproportionate impact on communities across socioeconomic and racial lines, broader structural inequities have been cast under a bright light and the unstable financial situation in which many of Illinois students live has been made even more so.

In response, Illinois colleges and universities have worked to adapt quickly to this new landscape and serve current and incoming students and communities not just in an educating capacity but as a compassionate community partner and provider of critical services and resources.

The stories of heroism in Illinois' higher education system must be told.

Following the conclusion of Illinois Higher Ed Matters Week, PCC will be blogging about the collection of #ILHigherEdMatters stories shared as part of the campaign.

Learn more about the campaign here.

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For More Equitable Access, Test-Optional Approaches are Needed Statewide in Wake of Covid-19

Every student who aspires to college should have equitable access to the career pathway of their choice. But the reality is this: Students with more time, money, and technology to prepare for the SAT and ACT will always have an advantage over their peers. That is more true now than ever, in a context in which schools are closed and students do not have the same ability to prep for or take the test due to the Covid-19 public health crisis. As recently as this spring, the National Association for College Admission Counseling rightfully raised its own concerns over inequities that will inevitably arise from the College Board and ACT's proposal for home administration of SAT and ACT tests this fall. In such settings, low-income students, less likely to have access to the devices and internet connection necessary to take such tests, would further be put at a disadvantage. In the wake of the pandemic and its still-evolving fallout, colleges and universities should ensure prospective students have equitable access to their institution, by eliminating the requirement to submit ACT or SAT scores in their application packages.

Beginning with Knox College in 2005, over two dozen Illinois institutions have recognized that requiring SAT/ACT scores contribute to inequality by barring qualified students from admission and have moved to test-optional admission practices. But until all institutions adopt more equitable approaches, not all students – particularly those who are Black, Latinx, or low-income – will have access to the many higher education options Illinois has to offer. Without statewide action, the students most negatively impacted by COVID-19 - many of whom are low-income and students of color - will be blocked from admission to Illinois' more selective institutions.

In the wake of COVID-19, Illinois can ensure equitable access to public universities across the state by implementing a uniform, test-optional admissions policy for the next three years.

​IL Colleges and Universities That Have Adopted Test Optional Practices (as of Aug 9, 2020)

American Academy of the Art -- No test required (just application, interview, HS degree with transcript)
Augustana College -- Test-optional for applicants with 3.0+ GPA; must complete admissions interview; not for international students
​​Columbia College -- Test-optional (though uses test for merit-based scholarships), students take on-campus placement tests once admitted
​​DePaul University -- Test-optional
Illinois College -- Test-optional
Knox College -- Test-optional, still required for home-schooled students
​​Lake Forest College -- Test-optional and required to conduct an interview; still required for home-schooled and international
McKendree University -- Test-optional; still required for international, homeschooled, if have lower than 3.0, wish to receive some merit-based scholarships or be considered for Honors program
Monmouth College -- Test-optional
National Louis University -- No test required (need 2.0 GPA to qualify for admission)​
Northeastern University -- No standardized test score required for Fall 2020 enrollment application. → Details: "Effective immediately, Northeastern's Fall 2020 admissions decisions will be made strictly using grade-point average and curriculum."
Northern Illinois University -- "Test-blind" starting Fall 2021 freshman class
Quincy University -- Test-optional → Details: "For admission to the university in fall 2020, the new QU test-optional admissions policy only affects students who cannot take a standardized test. Beginning with admissions for fall 2021, students will not be required to submit test scores, though they will have the option to do so"
Southern Illinois University - Carbondale -- Test-optional (must have over 2.75 GPA)
Tribeca Flashpoint College -- Test optional
University of Chicago -- Test-optional
Western Illinois University -- Test-optional
Chicago State University
University of St. Francis -– Test-optional → Details: "New in 2020 & 21. With several dates for the SAT and ACT canceled in the face of COVID-19, USF has waived the requirement for those test scores for incoming freshmen."
Bradley University -- Test-optional → Details: Beginning with students applying for fall 2021 enrollment at Bradley University, undergraduate applicants will no longer be required to submit standardized test scores, ACT or SAT, for admission.
Dominican University -- Test-optional → Details: Will not require ACT and/or SAT scores for Fall 2020 and 2021 admissions
Governors State University -- Test-optional → Details: For the semesters Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, Governors State University has elected to move to a "test optional" admission process for incoming freshman applicants.
Northwestern University -- Test-optional → Details: SAT or ACT scores (OPTIONAL for 2020-21 cycle).
Illinois State University -- Test-optional → Details: No SAT or ACT score required for summer or fall 2021.
University of Illinois Chicago -- Test-optional Details: Optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.
University of Illinois Springfield -- Test-optional → "The University of Illinois Springfield will not require college bound high school seniors to submit standardized test scores as part of the application process for fall 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic."
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- Test-optional for Fall 2021 freshman applicants.
Elmhurst University -- Test-optional pilot for 2020-21 application year.
Greenville University -- Test-optional
Illinois Institute of Technology -- Test-optional for Spring 2021 and Fall 2021. "Students applying for fall 2020 admission are still required to submit their official standardized test scores.
Lewis University -- Test-optional → Details: "Lewis University has adopted a test-optional admission policy for incoming freshmen applying for the Fall 2021 semester"
North Park University -- Test-optional for 2020-2021 admissions → Details: "The application process for 2020-2021 will emphasize the whole student, as it always has, just without an SAT/ACT test score.
Saint Xavier University -- Test-blind for Fall 2021 applicants
Wheaton College -- Test-optional → Details: The submission of standardized test results is optional for all candidates.
Western Illinois University - Test-optional for Fall 2020 and Fall 2021 admissions.
​​​​​Add'l Sources: ​https://www.nprillinois.org/post/put-down-your-pencils-many-il-schools-join-test-optional-trend#stream/0http://fairtest.org/university/optional/statehttps://www.nacacnet.org/college-admission-status-coronavirushttps://www.nacacnet.org/college-admission-status-coronavirusUpdate needed? Email PCC Senior Communications Manager, Bravetta Hassell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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PCC Policy Recommendations to Support Illinois’ Students in Response to Covid-19

​For many college students, institutions of higher learning address not just academic needs, but basic non-academic needs as well. College offers a reprieve from housing and food insecurity, access to health care and childcare, income through campus jobs, and a sense of community and purpose.

In the wake of the coronavirus however, that stability has been shaken as colleges and universities across Illinois and the United States have had to close or significantly limit access to classrooms, dining halls, residence halls, health clinics, libraries, and computer labs, shift learning to an online environment for an indefinite period of time, and restrict access to critical services and resources for students.

In response to the needs that have emerged from the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government just passed a sweeping stimulus package that includes relief for college students and institutions of higher education.

While this package will provide assistance to many college students, the needs of Illinois' students and institutions will likely surpass available federal resources. The Partnership offers its recommendations for equitably allocating federal aid and creating state policy that will most effectively and equitably restore the state's higher education sector after this crisis. Read PCC's full policy memo, Legislative Action to Support College Students in Response to COVID-19, here.

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An Important Update from the Partnership in light of Covid-19

PCC announcement
Dear PCC Friends and Supporters,

It is my hope this message finds you well and focusing your energies on the health and well-being of yourselves and your families as the coronavirus outbreak continues to slow public life considerably, and threaten the health of all our communities. In these rapidly-evolving times that are disrupting the lives of college students everywhere and challenging our higher education system in unprecedented ways, we wanted to update you on what actions the Partnership is taking and the resources we are developing in light of this situation.

Since the cancellation of the Spring 2020 ILEA Summit and the first meeting of the PCC/Aspen Equity Academy for Presidents and Cabinets, we've been working closely with our ILEA partners to understand their students' academic and non-academic needs as they've arisen during this crisis and how PCC can support institutions in addressing these. By next week, we will have compiled a list of needs organized by themes to share with the Board and other supporters interested in helping our institutions of higher education help our students. And in the coming days, we'll be sharing a list of resources related to online teaching, open-access resources, supporting students digitally, and other staff and faculty support resources with our partner institutions. Similarly, we are connecting with our Student Advisory Committee members to ascertain their concerns and provide support as needs are identified.

With the legislative session canceled this week and a truncated session expected, movement on our legislative agenda has been put on hold but our fight for necessary resources and supports for underrepresented students has not stopped. During a call we are hosting this week with higher education advocates and college access and success organizations, we will discuss what we're hearing from students, institutions, and crowdsourced resources, in order to brainstorm a coordinated response. Similarly, we are working closely with our partners in the state legislature to ensure any state response considers the unique hardship of our state's most vulnerable students. A memo with our recommendations will be shared in the near future. Further, through social media, we will ask our network to support both S. 3489, the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act, a federal bill that would allocate $1.2 billion over the next two years to college students in financial need and HB 5262, the appropriations bill Representative Smith introduced seeking a state appropriation to create and expand emergency grant programs in Illinois.

Finally, as the PCC team responds to the disruption created by the pandemic with information and recommendations for our stakeholders, we would be remiss to not be responsive to student needs as they arise now. Our communications team is leveraging our social channels to highlight resources stateside and nationwide – in financial assistance, internet access, educational materials and more – that may be of support to students seeking assistance. Resources are posted on PCC's Twitter account, and the full and regularly updated list can be found here.

As PCC learns more from the organizations and practitioners who are closest to students and receives updates from Springfield, we will continue to share the latest developments and provide an open feedback loop so that you can help us navigate this unprecedented time.

Thank you for your continued support.
Kyle Westbrook
Executive Director
Partnership for College Completion
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PCC Response to Governor Pritzker's 2020 Budget Address


February 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Corey Williams, Governors State University

1. What is your current role/title?

I currently serve as Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Dean of Students and Interim Chief Diversity Officer.

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

BA, Sociology, Stony Brook University,

MA, Higher Ed Admin, Chicago State University,

Ed.D. Education Leadership, DePaul University (June 2020 anticipated)

My dissertation research question is: Is there a relationship between cultural-based mentoring and academic persistence in African-American and Latinx male community college students?

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

As an undergrad, there was a clear disconnect between educational outcomes and equity. While I'm sure that there were programs and services geared towards student success at Stony Brook University in the early 90's, as a first-generation, low-income student, those programs weren't very well advertised. Also, as someone who immigrated from a foreign country, it was difficult for me to navigate the complexities of higher education as English was not my native language.

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

Being a catalyst for change that will ultimately impact every aspect of Governors State University.

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

In my many roles, I clearly understand that diversity does not mean that all of my students are equal and as such, I need to be more intentional in creating spaces to ensure that students truly feel supported. Additionally, coming together as a community (faculty, students, staff and external stakeholders) to discuss how to invest in structures that will best support our students.

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