Member Spotlight: Meet Eunice Heredia, City Colleges of Chicago


1. What is your current role/title?
I have been working with City Colleges of Chicago for six years. My current role is Assistant Director of Financial Aid. Before working at City Colleges of Chicago, I worked with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC). I have a total of eight years working with state and federal aid. Where did you earn your degree(s)? Types of degree(s) and field(s) of study? I received my Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Lake Forest College, and I am working towards obtaining my Master's degree in Public Policy from DePaul University and will be graduating before the end of the year.

2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?
I received my Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Lake Forest College, and I am working towards obtaining my Master's degree in Public Policy from DePaul University and will be graduating before the end of the year.

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

My experience at Lake Forest College was phenomenal due to having faculty and staff supporting me throughout my undergraduate career. I was part of the Lake Forest Chicago Scholar program, which allowed me to focus on my studies and provided me with the support I needed throughout my four years. Currently, at DePaul University, the faculty is very open to meeting with students, which I have taken advantage of meeting with each of my professors. They also do an amazing job in promoting events and services. I have grown fondly of their Writing Center.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?
What excites me about the equity work at my institution is providing support to our student's needs and learning what we can change to assist them better. What also excites me is creating new ways to make education accessible for everyone.

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

I have presented topics about Financial Aid and Financial Literacy in both Spanish and English in my role. I have also provided resources and guides on accessing Financial Aid, whether students are applying for the Alternative Application or FAFSA application. In addition, we are looking into having more events in multiple languages for our parents and students. Listening to the needs of students is my main priority when it comes to assisting students.

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Equity in Practice Spotlight: “Complete to Compete Strategy” at Elgin Community College


Briefly describe a strategy in your Equity Plan that you have implemented. Include a brief description of how this strategy was chosen.
Elgin Community College (ECC) wanted to help "near completer" students for whom predicative analytics showed were in danger of not completing their degrees, despite significant progress. The top reason students were dropping out after earning significant credit hours was due to financial obligations. The Complete to Compete scholarship was created to provide financial support to students above and beyond any funds that they already receive through federal, state, and/or institutional financial aid in order to encourage students to enroll in more credit hours than they otherwise would have been able to without the additional funding and to set a goal of completing their degree by the end of the current academic year. This strategy was chosen because it was poised to implement quickly, was directly related to completion, and tied to financial need.

Articulate the intended outcomes, leading indicators and KPIs.
The intended outcome was for "near completer" students to persist or reenroll and complete their degree/transfer within one year. Enrollment, credit accumulation, academic performance, and completion rates were tracked. We wanted to show demonstrable improvements attributable to this intervention so a comparison group of like students, who did not receive the scholarship, was also tracked.

Over the course of the 2020-2021 academic year, the students receiving the Complete to Compete scholarship enrolled in approximately the same number of total credit hours, on average, as the comparison group (16.7 hours versus 16.1, respectively), but had a higher completion ratio (90% versus 79%, respectively) and, thus, a greater number of earned credit hours (15.0 versus 12.6, respectively), and, ultimately, a much greater proportion of students graduating with their Associate's degree by the end of the year (73% of scholarship students, compared to 47% of comparison group, but the initial metric was to complete within the 2020-2021 academic year).

How has your institution applied an equity focus/lens to this strategy? What stakeholders were engaged? What data is informing your strategy?

The key stakeholders were ECC's Institutional Advancement and Student Services offices; the College's active Foundation Board; the Institutional Advancement executive director; and Institutional Research managing director.

As part of the process of generating the applicant pool for eligible students, the ECC Institutional Research office generated a statistical predictive model based on each student's demographic profile, past academic performance and socio-economic status. This model created a "predicted likelihood of graduating within 1 year" score for each student in the applicant pool. This score was then used as one component of the applicant scoring process to determine awardees. For this particular scoring category, students with lower predicted likelihood of graduating scores are given greater preference in the scholarship application scoring. The reasoning behind this is that preference for the award, in alignment with the wishes of the ECC Foundation Board, would go to students who would theoretically be helped the most by the additional funding.

For more information on this strategy at Elgin Community College, contact:
David Davin, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement & ECC Foundation, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
David Rudden, Managing Director of Institutional Research, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Deborah Orth, Project Assessment Administrator, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Applied Equity in Higher Education - September 2021


A Letter from the Executive Director

Dear ILEA Partners,

Welcome to another new academic year that, paired with the colorful change of the seasons here in the Midwest, has always filled me with hope and excitement for the year ahead as both a student and an educator. I am so pleased to be writing to you in my new capacity as the second Executive Director of PCC, succeeding our founding ED Dr. Kyle Westbrook last month. I am honored to have the opportunity to lead PCC's talented team in this next chapter, while continuing to expand our work with you – our committed college and university partners – as you make progress on our shared aspirations for greater racial and socioeconomic equity across Illinois' higher education system.

This year, the PCC will continue to expand and enhance our ILEA Programming and supports in response to your feedback. We have further developed programming for the ILEA Equity Academy for Presidents and Cabinets and will offer an opportunity for all ILEA teams to join or continue their engagement. We have an excellent lineup of speakers on deck for the ILEA Annual Summit on November 3-5, 2021 and the Winter Equity Institute in February 2022. We will continue to offer support in building your institutional data capacity and will begin new Learning Communities for cross-institutional discussion and collaboration through the Equity Circles for Change. Stay tuned for additional announcements in the coming weeks regarding new opportunities for professional development to build team efficacy on equity efforts, new tools and resources, and opportunities for dialogue within and outside of the ILEA Initiative.

In this newsletter, we share a new feature within the spotlight section called Equity in Practice, which will elevate the institutional equity work begin implemented on your campuses. We look forward to using this as one of multiple places where these stories will be shared. We have also renamed this section Applied Equity in Higher Education in which we will use this space to highlight the urgency of our equity efforts and the concrete actions necessary to remove institutional barriers and target supports so all of our students have an equitable opportunity to earn their degrees. This is equity as action, practiced as a verb.

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

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

We know that representation matters and many of your Equity Plans reinforce this point as they include strategies to achieve greater diversity among faculty, staff, and administration. Even still, in 2018 Latinx women and men make up only 6% of all full-time faculty in the U.S.[4]

With 22 ILEA institutions that are current or aspiring HSIs, we can and will do better in serving our Latinx students and ensuring that our hiring, promotion, and tenure practices for faculty and staff move us toward greater representation of the rich diversity of our students and state.

As the semester is now well underway, I hope will all find time for reflection with your teams on the first year of Equity Plan implementation, make adjustments, and set ambitious goals for the year ahead. The team at the PCC is doing the same as we celebrate five years since our founding and three years since the launch of ILEA. I also hope you can find time to enjoy this most beautiful season and to read an excellent book by a Latinx author (book lists here, here, and here), perhaps while curling up with something warm to drink and the requisite apple cider donut.

In partnership for equity,



[1] Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) Enrollment & Degree System

[2] Broken Mirrors: Latino Student Representation at State Public Colleges and Universities (Education Trust)

[3] State Equity Report Card – Illinois

[4] National Center for Education Statistics

twitter bird 200x200 Connect with me on Twitter at @Lili_Castille and let’s discuss what Latinx authors we’re reading this month!

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

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

June 21, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Member Spotlight: Meet Tracy Templin, National Louis University

Tracy Templin Tracy Templin, Director of Strategy and Operations at National Louis University

1. What is your current role/title?
I serve as the Executive Director of Strategy and Operations within the Undergraduate College at National Louis University.

2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?
I have earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from Washington University in St. Louis. I hold a B.A. in English and Sociology from DePaul University.

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

During my freshman year at DePaul University, while I received Pell and state aid and took out loans to help with the cost of attendance, I still struggled with the cost of a private university education and living expenses. The full weight of this financial burden wasn't realized until I began to receive my tuition bills as they mounted up over fall and winter terms. By spring term of my first year, I had decided to leave and transfer to a public university the next fall, offering a more affordable option. At the end of the term, I made an appointment with my professor/faculty advisor in the English department, to inform her I was transferring due to financial constraints. Several weeks later, after the term had ended, I received a notice from DePaul that I had been awarded a grant from the institution that provided additional funding for tuition expenses. Unbeknownst to me, my professor had advocated on my behalf for this grant, which is the reason that I ended up persisting and was able to graduate from DePaul. This experience continues to motivate me each day to be an advocate for students facing similar financial challenges in affording a college education.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?
There are so many things! When I first came to NLU, I was drawn to the Undergraduate College's mission is to drive equity in bachelor's degree attainment. This means that the equity work is not just another initiative, but it is central to how we operate and serve students. As we have grown in students, faculty, and staff, I am excited each day to collaborate with, be challenged by, and learn from colleagues who are committed to this work and their own personal journey. While I am excited by how much our College has accomplished and the individual success stories of our students, I am also motivated by our commitment to continuous improvement and challenging the policies, processes, and mindsets that contribute to inequity as we work towards justice on behalf of our students.

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

As a white woman in a leadership role at an institution that is serving predominately Latinx and Black students, I strive to continue my own learning and challenge my own biases as I engage in everyday practices. Through my role, I have had the opportunity to lead and participate on the Core Team that developed our Institution's Equity Plan, incorporating student, staff, and faulty voice as we developed the plan. Another area I am passionate about in my role is developing the capacity and culture in the College to use data through an equity-minded approach to drive action. Equity-minded data use by leadership, faculty, and staff has resulted in the examination of policies, curriculum and instructional practices that may be contributing to disparate outcomes and influenced the implementation of new or revised practices to increase equity across our college.

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Equity in Action - May 2021

Dear ILEA Partners,

In a really difficult year, what has kept us going at PCC is the tireless work being done by all of you across the ILEA network. You have shown incredible resilience as institutions, as leaders, as educators. You have also demonstrated deep commitment to students and your institutional missions. This is apparent in how you have reached out directly and regularly to connect with students; directed financial resources to them; obtained hardware and connectivity to continue online learning; provided for basic needs; changed college policies, timing, and procedures to center student needs; and so much more. This has all been done in an effort to enable students to persist with their college plans in the midst of the many hardships faced by all.

You have also stayed the course on your Equity Plans. The finalizing, publishing, and first year of implementation of the plans have coincided nearly imperfectly with the pandemic. And while much work and rethinking will be required to adjust to our current reality, the foundation has been laid and the work has not stopped. I have heard the stories you have told in our zoom calls. I have seen it in the news articles and read it in your tweets, presentations, and press releases. I have listened to your plans, inquiry, and response as we have looked at data together in our capacity building sessions. I have observed it as you have shown up for Equity Academies, core team meetings, webinars, and more. If anything, the work has accelerated.

We remain clear-eyed, but hopeful about the challenges in the months ahead. The overall decline in college enrollments this past fall has, as expected, continued into the spring. As with the effects of the pandemic, this has not been distributed equally across the higher education landscape. We have seen dramatic declines in enrollments for nearly all student groups, but the far greatest declines have been for students who are Black, Latinx, low-income, over 25 years old, and male. We are also seeing overall declines in enrollment for 18-20 year olds. This has hit many of our community colleges hardest, as they are those that serve the largest numbers of students who have been disproportionately impacted economically and physically by COVID-19. The average declines also mask significant variance across institutions. All of this has caused serious concern about if this will represent an educational pause for these students, or if it will become a lost slice of the college-going population. We cannot let it be the latter.

While many challenges remain that draw our attention, I remain hopeful about the year ahead. In the coming weeks we will celebrate with you as you graduate thousands of students from your institutions. We are awarding 19 Catalyst Grants totaling nearly $230K to ILEA colleges and universities for new approaches you will deploy. We will also highlight your work through the second annual Higher Education Matters campaign (May 10-14). As vaccination rates rise and you make plans to bring back greater numbers of students to campus in the fall, the PCC will continue to expand our programming to support your equity efforts in response to the significant feedback you have shared with us this year. We will enhance and expand our Annual ILEA Summit (November 3-5, 2021), Winter Equity Institute (February 24-25, 2022), and professional development offerings. We will also release the first Annual ILEA Report, document and elevate your work, launch a formal evaluation of ILEA, offer opportunities for dialogue across the network, and release a number of tools and resources on a revamped PCC website for you to utilize and access on demand.

As we look ahead to long summer days, I hope you all have a chance to enjoy some sunshine and reconnect with loved ones this summer. As we close out the most difficult year of many of our work and personal lives, we must prioritize time to care for ourselves, in order to continue to show up for our students and colleagues.

Thank you for your heroic efforts this year. Your work on higher education equity, especially in the midst of a crisis, will be a model for those across the country who will follow in your footsteps.

In partnership for equity,


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Equity in Action

Dear ILEA Partners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership for equity,


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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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Letter to Congress on Student and Taxpayer Protections


February 2, 2021

Dear Member of Congress:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

90/10 Rule

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

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

Borrower Defense to Repayment

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

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

Gainful Employment

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

Incentive Compensation Ban

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

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

Additional Proposals

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

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


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

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


January 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

35 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


January 19, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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IBHE Announces Members of New Strategic Planning Advisory Committee


January 13, 2021

By IBHE - My Radio Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This report was also featured on River Bend.

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


January 11, 2021

by By Peter Hancock - Capitol News Illinois


This report was also featured on WGLT News.

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


December 20, 2020

By Erica Gunderson - WTTW News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Data for Equity Action

Dear ILEA Partners,

It has been wonderful to see your faces onscreen at our virtual events this fall. Thank you for continuing to prioritize the equity work on your campuses in ways that will strengthen your institutions economically and academically, as places of excellence in which to study, work, and grow.

The year 2020 has been a year of considerable challenge, but we have also discovered many pleasant surprises in our work together. As you have demonstrated, we found that it is possible to continue to build community with all of you, engage in important dialogues, and deliver effective online programming on various equity topics that can increase capacity for this work on your teams. As always, the resources produced by our team have been created in direct response to feedback and requests we receive from you. We thank you for taking the time to share your feedback and reach out to us with individual requests. We continue to value this engagement with you to better target our programming and to ensure its ongoing relevance to your most pressing needs.

As our ILEA institutional research colleagues finalize the submission of baseline data to the NSC PDP and your teams gain access to your dashboards, the PCC team is busy creating opportunities to support you in building data capacity in the coming year. We recognize that on this measure, as with many others, ILEA teams are in different places on the journey to democratizing disaggregated data throughout the institutional decision-making process.

As you consider institutional data, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you regularly share disaggregated data across your institution with various stakeholders (faculty, staff, students)?

  • Does your leadership team or department regularly use disaggregated data to make decisions?

  • Does your team or department regularly use disaggregated data to evaluate the impact of decisions/equity strategies?

  • Do you closely examine  data for ILEA equity populations (Black students, Latinx students, and students who are Pell recipients)?

If the answer is 'no' to any of these questions – what is your plan to get to that point? Additionally, do you regularly collect qualitative data to supplement and provide context to quantitative data?Finally, do you provide opportunities for your team to consider this data and make sense of it? All of these are critical components to building a strong data culture within your institutions.

Though we are all working to impact graduation rates, these measures are lagging indicators. Lagging indicators provide us with a look back at the cumulative experience of students within our institutions. As we collectively implement strategies to eliminate inequities in degree completion by race, ethnicity, and Pell status, the regular use of leading indicators will be a critical tool to get us there.

Leading indicators or early momentum metrics:

  • provide timely, just-in-time data
  • are shorter term measures
  • are actionable metrics that are close to practice
  • are a form of early alert
  • have predictive power, research has shown
  • allow us to test hypotheses and move the equity needle
  • are formative
  • are easier to control

As your teams become familiar with the NSC PDP dashboards – which may look different from some of the institutional data you are used to reviewing because it includes all full-time, part-time, first-time, not first-time student – regardless of when they entered your institution – you can identify the leading indicators that are available to you. These include: first year enrollment, credit accumulation rate, credit completion ratio, gateway course completion, persistence and retention, degree completion, and time to degree as well as the ability to disaggregate by race and first-generation. There is also the ability to benchmark these measures against peer institutions.

We look forward to continuing the data conversation with you through our upcoming data capacity-building opportunities that will be announced next month. These workshops, presentations, and courses will be designed for teams at different points in their development and your participation will be optional.

The New Year will also bring new programming in other areas, tools and resources for use on your campuses, opportunities for collaboration across ILEA colleges and universities, and targeted individual supports. We look forward to sharing more with you.

As we reflect on this year, we feel so inspired by the evidence we have seen in the past couple months alone, of increasing equity organization and momentum on your teams and within your colleges and universities. We hope all of you can take a moment this season to appreciate that progress, too.

We wish you a safe, restful, and rejuvenating holiday season. 2021 awaits!

In partnership for equity,


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


December 2, 2020

by PETER MEDLIN - NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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