Illinois colleges, university work to help first-generation students graduate
Twenty-five Illinois colleges and universities are making an effort to improve the graduation rates for African American and Latino students.
Partnership for College Completion, a nonprofit that aims to provide more resources for first-generation college students, is bringing together the institutions to close the gap in college graduation rates. They are particularly focused on low income African-Americans and Latinos.
"African-American students and Latino students are graduating at significantly lower rates than white students and higher income students," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of Partnership for College Completion.
Erik Flynn is the first in his Latino family to go to college. His goal is to graduate in 4 years, but Flynn knows navigating the college process is challenging when it's completely new.
"Unlike high school or grammar school, I really just can't go to my parents and ask for help, it's more understanding what the college resources are for me," said Flynn, a freshman at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says the gap is not unique to Illinois. Chairman Catherine Lhamon says it's a nationwide problem.
"We heard very serious concerns about a student's ability to actually make it through colleges and understand and know what it takes to seek and secure financial aid," said Lhamon.
Students need help with navigating financial aid, as well as with personal situations and changing majors.
Northern Illinois University is being more proactive with information and resources for students, NIU's president Lisa Freeman says more must be done.
"We need to have high tech solutions that allow us to look at students that would otherwise fall through the cracks," said Freeman.
NIU is among the 25 Illinois Universities and colleges committed to ending the racial and socio-economic graduation rate gap by 2025.