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


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

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

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

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

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

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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: 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.


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.

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.


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. 

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. 

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

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.


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


 📢 Take Action 1-2-3 📢


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

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


 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.


 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.


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. 


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.

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.

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.

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.


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. 


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. 


Upcoming Events


📢 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

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

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


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.


  • 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.


  • 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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Member Spotlight: Meet Marisol Velázquez, Morton College


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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2021 ILEA Winter Equity Institute Recap


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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The Illinois Black Caucus’ education bill, HB 2170, is headed to the Governor’s desk. Here’s how one piece of the legislation will help Black students on their path toward a college degree.


Partnership for College Completion  |  January 12, 2021

[UPDATE: Governor JB Pritzker signed HB 2170 into law on March 8, 2021.]

Systemic racism underlies both the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and our history of police violence against Black people in the United States. These dual crises collided last year, creating a wave of civil unrest across the country and spurring the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus (ILBC) to develop a legislative agenda aimed at dismantling the vicious cycle of racism in Illinois. Over the course of several months, the ILBC heard from advocates and stakeholders from across the state on policies and practices hindering racial equity. They categorized these priorities into four pillars:

  1. Criminal justice, violence reduction, and police accountability
  2. Economic access, equity and opportunity
  3. Health care and human services
  4. Education and workforce development.
The Partnership for College Completion and Women Employed had the privilege of working with Leader Kimberly Lightford and Representative Carol Ammons on the education pillar of the ILBC agenda, culminating in HB 2170. The comprehensive bill aimed at reversing centuries of systemic racism in education, birth to career, passed both chambers on Monday, and now heads to the Governor's desk for signature. HB 2170 includes several policies that dismantle barriers to Black student success and advance equity across the P-20 spectrum. One such policy is Article 100, which creates the Developmental Education Reform Act.
Racial disparities in access to higher education and college completion, particularly those between Black and white students, remain stagnant and in some cases are widening. Though there are many factors that contribute to this, there is perhaps no barrier to equitable higher education outcomes as significant and well-researched as developmental education course placement and delivery. Developmental education (or remedial) coursework are classes that don't offer credit or progress toward a degree, but which colleges require many students to take before they can enroll in college-level coursework.

Colleges are twice as likely to place Black students in developmental education courses as they are to place White students. Once placed in a developmental course, Black students are less likely to enroll in and complete a gateway course in mathematics and English and are less likely to complete a degree than their White peers. As it stands, nearly 71 out of every 100 Black students in an Illinois community college are placed into a developmental education course and, most appallingly, only 6 of those students will go on to graduate.

The problem is twofold: (1) inaccurate placement measures, like high stakes placement exams and standardized tests, over-place students into developmental education; and (2) the traditional (and most common) model of developmental education includes long course sequences, which cost students time and money, rarely count as college credit, and seldom lead to a degree.

The Developmental Education Reform Act addresses both of these issues. First, it requires community colleges to look beyond standardized test scores, which, compared with other measures like high school GPA, track more closely with a student's income than their course preparedness. The legislation requires a multiple measures framework for placement into college-level coursework, including GPA. Evidence shows that using high school GPA results in fewer students misplaced into developmental coursework, and can help make placement more equitable. The key to this approach is allowing students to demonstrate proficiency with any one measure in order to become eligible for college-level coursework—eliminating the risk of double jeopardy and giving students multiple paths to demonstrate readiness for college-level coursework.

The second part of the Act addresses how students are served once they are placed into a developmental course. Currently, at least 45 community colleges still implement the traditional model of developmental education at some level, despite evidence of its ineffectiveness. In the latest community college cohort, just 18% of Black students in the traditional math model completed their gateway course with a "C" or better in 3 years, and just 29% completed their English gateway course. Alternately, co-requisite remediation, an evidence-based model that places students directly into college-level coursework with concurrent supports, reported 69% of Black students completing their math gateway course and 64% completing their English gateway course with a "C" or better in 3 years.

While institutions are implementing other approaches to developmental education like co-requisite remediation, 77% of math students and 67% of English students who are placed in developmental education are still placed in a traditional model. The Developmental Education Reform Act requires institutions to develop plans for implementing and scaling evidence-based developmental education models that maximize students' likelihood of completing gateway courses in mathematics and English within two academic semesters. There is no question that more effective approaches to developmental education exist, and this bill will help spur institutional action to implement and scale evidence-based approaches that improve equity in college-level course access and completion. 

In concert with ongoing agency and institutional efforts to improve developmental education outcomes[1], HB2170 will help scale down the disproportionate enrollment of Black students in traditional developmental education, ensuring that more students who can immediately succeed in college-level coursework are placed in credit-bearing courses and that students who need additional support are served by evidence-based models of developmental education.

Successful implementation and sustainability will require institution-wide stakeholder engagement, dedicated state and institutional resources, and a comprehensive review of current developmental education practices and policies and related student supports. We applaud the ILBC for championing HB2170, a crucial step to more equitable course placement and gateway course completion, which will support more Black students on their path toward college degrees. 

[1] See: SJR 41 report, ICCCP course placement recommendations, ICCB developmental education grant, ILEA institutional Equity Plans, PWR Act's transitional math implementation

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The Second Stimulus Package Lays the Groundwork for a Higher Ed Recovery That Illinois Can Build On


While the $23 billion will provide some relief, the state must still adequately and equitably fund colleges, particularly more financially vulnerable institutions.

Mike Abrahamson, Policy Manager | January 6, 2021

There are many positive aspects of the federal stimulus package and budget, passed and signed over the holidays. The coupled bills offer helpful funding to public colleges and universities, but it's incomplete; and with no state and local funding included in the bill, Illinois must make equitable funding decisions as it remains in a budget crisis.

This legislation also includes long-sought changes to the Pell grant, among other higher education-related provisions. Overall, Illinois can build on this response to support college students and institutions through the COVID-19 crisis.

$23 billion in aid to colleges and students

The headline of the bill is the $23 billion to be distributed among colleges and universities, a boost from the $14 billion provided in the March CARES Act. However, this is still just a fraction of the $120 billion requested by many leading higher education advocacy organizations, who estimate that $73.8 billion alone is needed to address COVID-19 on campuses. Far more is needed to cover the increase in students' financial need this year, lost revenues from in-person events, and crucially, potential shortfalls in state appropriations.

The stimulus package not only provides aid to colleges and universities, it prioritizes equity in how it doles out these funds. The CARES Act had some equitable elements in its distribution, but Congress made further steps toward equity by more heavily weighting part-time students (who are more likely to be parents, essential workers, and students of color) in this stimulus package's formula.[1] It also concentrated more funding on public colleges and universities by discounting the private colleges wealthy enough to pay the endowment tax in its formula, and limits their usage of funds to expenses directly related to the pandemic.

Pell grant improvements

The budget bill included some much-needed improvements to the federal Pell grant program. It simplified the Federal Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) form from 108 questions down to 36.[2] Technical changes to the "Student Aid Index," a renaming of the much-maligned term "Expected Family Contribution," will also qualify 550,000 additional students for aid, and 1.7 million more students will be eligible for the full award.[3] The award itself had a modest increase of $150, bringing the maximum grant up to about $6,500. This is still only about half of what Illinois university students end up paying for college, making the incoming Biden administration's promise to double Pell that much more important.

The bill includes incarcerated students and students convicted of a drug-related offense in Pell eligibility, reversing a provision of the 1994 crime bill. It also restores Pell eligibility for students who have been defrauded by their college. This is an important step toward aiding students who have been victimized by for-profit colleges, but Illinois can do more to hold these colleges accountable, and stop giving taxpayer money to these institutions by phasing out MAP grants at for-profit colleges.

Other elements included

The stimulus package also includes $1.3 billion in flexible Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds, about half of the $2.75 billion provided in the CARES Act. If the distribution method to states is the same, Governor Pritzker will be able to allocate about $50 million toward education as he sees fit. PCC advises the Governor's Office to similarly distribute about half toward higher education, and build on the equitable distribution of previous funding to not only include proportion and number of low-income students, but also consider the populations of Black and Latinx students that colleges enroll.

Finally, the bill gives a five-year extension for employers to be able to offer up to $5,250 in student loan relief tax-free to their employees. While this can help employers and some graduates, its benefits are limited and not likely to be very equitable. For this reason, PCC supports student loan forgiveness at the state and federal level that is more equitably targeted.

Concerning and disappointing elements

There are elements of this legislation that are concerning, however. More than $900 million is earmarked for for-profit colleges, which can be predatory, especially during economic crises (though they do receive less in this bill than in the CARES Act). It also does not explicitly state that undocumented students are eligible for funds, which was an omission from the CARES Act that allowed the Department of Education to inequitably exclude undocumented students from receiving emergency grants.

Further, this latest bill also does not offer loan forgiveness or continue the moratorium on federal loan payments, meaning that borrowers will have to continue making loan payments starting February 1. It also includes no aid for state or local governments, so appropriations to public colleges and universities will remain in jeopardy as the state suffers a $3.9 billion budget shortfall. Thus, while the $23 billion will provide some relief, the state must still adequately and equitably fund colleges, particularly more financially vulnerable institutions. This means instilling equity in distributing the GEER funding, as well as in any unavoidable budget cuts. For the Partnership's full playbook on instilling equity in this crisis, see PCC's recent blog post, as well as its Higher Education Appropriations: A Framework for Equity in Illinois report.

Update (1/19/2021): An earlier version of this blog post mentioned changes to the way that developmental education courses would count toward a student's financial aid clock. The American Association of Community Colleges, in talking with congressional staff, has corrected this finding and confirmed that there will be no changes to the Pell grant as it relates to developmental education.

[1] 37.5% is distributed based on the Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) of Pell-eligible students enrolled, 37.5% based on headcount of Pell students, 11.5% based on FTE of non-Pell-eligible students, and 11.5% based on the headcount of non-Pell-eligible students (source: page 1881 of the full-text bill)

[2] It also added a question that will allow the government to trace loan outcomes by race

[3] Students who make 275% of the federal poverty line are eligible for grants, and students closer to 200% of the federal poverty line (depending on family size) are eligible for the maximum award (Source: Center for American Progress)

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Are you effectively serving as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI)?

Joe Saucedo, PCC Equity Program Manager  and Jonathan Lopez, PCC Communications and Operations Manager | December 9, 2020

The term Hispanic has a complicated history. In fact, there is quite a lot of variance in terms of who identifies with the term depending on your geographic location in the country. In 1973, the federal government created the ethnic category "Hispanic" to refer to individuals with heritage and ancestors originating in Spain or Latin American countries. After years of legislative advocacy in support of increasing college access for underserved students, the Hispanic-serving institution designation was introduced in 1992. Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) are nonprofit, degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States that are federally designated as such by enrolling at least 25% Latinx undergraduate students (Garcia et al., 2019). Emerging HSIs, according to Excelencia in Education, are those colleges and universities that have a full-time equivalent Hispanic enrollment between 15-24%. Dr. Gina Ann Garcia from the University of Pittsburgh has dedicated much of her research on HSIs to assessing whether these institutions deliver on the promise to serve Hispanic and Latinx students in ways that their white dominant counterparts do not. Specifically, Dr. Garcia interrogates whether HSIs go beyond just enrolling more Latinx students and also focus on taking action that yields better persistence and graduation rates.

As Illinois' Latinx community continues to grow, more colleges and universities should be prepared to be Hispanic serving and in more than designation - effectively serving and supporting Latinx student persistence and degree completion.

In Dr. Garcia's groundbreaking book, Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges & Universities, it becomes clear that despite the HSI designation, many well-intentioned institutions of higher education promote invisibility for Latinx students when course offerings prioritize a Eurocentric perspective, administrative leaders and faculty are mostly white, or student programming does not account for the rich diversity of Latinx students. Dr. Garcia further argues that colleges and universities with the HSI classification must commit to providing their students with equitable experiences and outcomes.

In regions across the United States, including the Midwest, the Hispanic/Latinx population has seen double-digit growth since 2010, and there is a correlation between that population growth and the emergence of Hispanic-serving institutions. In our state, out of the 28 partner colleges and universities that comprise the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative, 15 are designated as HSIs or emerging HSIs. For some of these partners, their enrollment figures tell one story while retention and persistence rates among Hispanic/Latinx students lag behind non-Hispanic students. Fortunately, ILEA partners are confronting these and other disparities through a number of equity reforms, including the implementation of proven institutional strategies to address specific inequities. But as Dr. Garcia's research points out, more work is needed by HSIs and emerging HSIs in general to effectively serve Latinx students and support their success.

PCC's Communications and Operations Manager Jonathan Lopez graduated from two Chicago-based HSIs, read more about his experience here.

By participating in the ILEA initiative, PCC's partner institutions including those with an established or emerging HSI status, have access to practitioners and scholar researchers such as Dr. Garcia and December webinar presenter, Dr. Marcela Cuellar, of the UC Davis School of Education, who problematize the concept of servingness and offer evidence-based considerations for examining campus racial climate and nonacademic student outcomes. In her essay for the American Council on Education, Dr. Garcia credits HSIs for doing their part to pursue federal grants that would enhance their ability to serve racially diverse students in meaningful ways. However, she acknowledges that there is much more that must be done in order for students enrolled at HSIs to navigate higher education successfully.

Dr. Garcia explicitly lays out several recommendations that are relevant for HSI leaders:

  • Articulate and embrace the HSI identity as an organization
  • Develop and nurture a campus environment that affirms and celebrates Latinx culture and the racial/ethnic background of minoritized students
  • Identify, recognize, and enhance the cultural wealth and vast knowledge that students bring to your institution
  • Provide ongoing anti-racist training and development opportunities for faculty and staff
  • Inventory and transform the structures that affect how Latinx students experience the institution including but not limited to governance, leadership, curricular and co-curricular offerings, decision-making processes, and assessment 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fair Tax Now Off The Table, A More Equitable Approach to Higher Ed Funding is Urgently Needed Now More Than Ever

With the failure of the fair tax amendment on Illinois ballots this fall, there are fewer options on the table to begin closing Illinois' budget hole and adequately fund services essential to our state economy including higher education.

The possible reform of Illinois' longstanding flat tax system couldn't have been more timely as the state continues to reel from the public health and economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis that has disproportionately affected low-income families and families of color. The pandemic has subsequently been more likely to disrupt the college plans for students of color and low-income students, threatening to widen disparities in college degree attainment, which remains the surest way to the middle class. Now particularly, having a college degree will be crucial in helping students and families across the state recover from this crisis.

On its own, the projected $3.4B in revenue a fair tax system would have brought in wouldn't have been enough to fill our projected state budget shortfall or close existing equity gaps, but it would have been a critical first step. In the immediate term, it could lead to level funding for FY2022, which can provide stability for students who rely on state-based financial aid to access college, and to institutions that depend on state funding for critical programs and services. In the long-term, it could position Illinois to implement a more adequate and equitable higher education funding model that prioritizes funding to institutions serving marginalized communities.

On this side of the election now, our most vulnerable colleges and universities instead remain in the same predicament they were in prior to the referendum: Underresourced due to underinvestment by the state, and bracing for possible cuts that would serve only to worsen their financial position and harm the financially vulnerable students they are more likely to enroll.

We do not envy the budget decisions our lawmakers will have to make in the months ahead. However as they weigh their options, we urge them to make their decisions through an equity lens. For our higher education system, that means lawmakers approaching the funding of higher education as a critical investment in our state's future economic stability and workforce, and prioritizing institutions with significant financial need and the historically marginalized students they disproportionately serve, while making key decisions about that investment.

In our new study, Higher Education Appropriations: A Framework for Equity in Illinois, the Partnership for College Completion discusses this, offering lawmakers a playbook for making higher education appropriations that:

  1. Invest in higher education, even in fiscal crises
  2. Consider the different funding needs of 2-year and 4-year public colleges and universities
  3. Prioritize financially vulnerable students and institutions
  4. Ensure funding comes with accountability and transparency

As we hold out hope that additional federal funding will soften the blows of COVID-19's drastic impact on our state economy, it's critical our lawmakers take the steps that will provide underresourced students more stable footing as they pursue a college degree - whether that be during this crisis or in its aftermath. Adopting a more equitable approach to funding higher education is a strong and necessary next step.

Stand for justice in Illinois higher education and sign up for our Policy Alerts

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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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