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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more from our September PCC Policy quarterly now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read PCC's June Policy Quarterly Newsletter today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More bad news for higher education: Illinois community college enrollment plummets as COVID-19 sidelines would-be students

More bad news for higher education: Illinois community college enrollment plummets as COVID-19 sidelines would-be students

May 5, 2021

By Elyssa Cherney - CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Enrollment declines at Illinois colleges and universities continue to outpace other states, with community colleges shouldering the brunt of the losses, as the coronavirus pandemic looms over another school year, according to new national and state data.

The state's community colleges saw enrollment plunge by 13% this spring compared with spring 2020, when the pandemic and schoolwide lockdowns were just beginning, according to research from the National Student Clearinghouse. Total postsecondary enrollment in Illinois dropped by 5.2% and undergraduate enrollment slid by 7.5%. All three figures are worse than the national average.

"There were very significant declines in the fall that have largely continued in the spring," said Lisa Castillo Richmond, managing director of the Partnership for College Completion, a Chicago-based nonprofit. Castillo Richmond noted vaccinations weren't widely underway and financial uncertainty abounded when students were signing up for spring classes.

Enrollment falls at community colleges
During the coronavirus pandemic, enrollment at Illinois community colleges fell dramatically. Chicago colleges are represented in dark blue and the suburban colleges are in light blue.

Though colleges are hoping to welcome more students back for in-person classes next fall, most relied on online learning or hybrid formats this year. Capacity limits, health concerns and economic challenges interrupted progress for thousands of students who didn't return to campuses. Some worry students who paused their studies — particularly students of color or from underprivileged backgrounds — might never come back.

At Elgin Community College, spring enrollment is down nearly 15%, said Gregory Robinson, the dean of students who also serves as associate vice president of student services and development.

While declines were recorded across all student demographic groups, the college's adult education programs, which offer GED completion and English as a second language courses, took the biggest hit — a 30% drop, Robinson said. Those classes predominantly serve Hispanic students, he said.

Many students at Elgin had never taken online courses and needed time to adjust, Robinson said. The community college will offer more in-person classes this fall but will also continue to provide hybrid and online courses, particularly for lecture-based disciplines.

"We have tried to set up a schedule to accommodate that," said Annamarie Schopen, assistant vice president of teaching, learning and student development. "We have many, many hybrid sections offered this fall and then we have a nice balance of synchronous and asynchronous. Our fully face-to-face is still a little bit lower."

Class size limits last year meant fewer students could sign up to learn in person, which affected enrollment, Schopen said. Elgin saw fall 2020 enrollment dip by 16%, Schopen said.

Spring enrollment is down 14% at Joliet Junior College this year, according to Robert Morris, dean of enrollment management. Figures collected by the Illinois Community College Board on the 10th day of classes show greater losses but don't account for students continuing to register for late-start programs, Morris said.

Morris said that many students chose not to enroll because of financial or technological limitations, though the school started a laptop loaner program and offered financial aid through federal relief funding, he said.

"Many students that typically go to school here are in professions that were most impacted by the pandemic, whether that be retail or restaurants or working at Amazon," Morris said.

He's optimistic that more students will return for the fall but doesn't expect a complete rebound. Students will only come back if they see the professional benefit of earning a college degree, he said.

"I think the pandemic has really caused people for the first time to calculate the value of going to college," he said. "Everyone is taking a much more closer look at their own situation."

The situation for community colleges remains precarious nationwide. In prior recessions, community colleges saw steady or increased enrollment from adults who wanted to increase their skills during a shaky job market, but the pandemic has exacerbated economic challenges, Castillo Richmond said.

"The community college population is a much more financially vulnerable population," she said. "Community colleges serve far higher percentages of low-income students, adult students and students who are caregivers."

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, community college enrollment nationwide stooped even lower this spring than in the fall. While fall 2020 enrollment was down 9.5% compared with the same period the previous year, the numbers for this spring dropped 11.3%.

Undergraduate enrollment as a whole also took its deepest dive since the beginning of the pandemic, down 5.9%.

A different data set from the Illinois Community College Board shows spring enrollment dropped by 14.2%, or 39,715 students. The report, published in March, notes that more than 65,000 students graduated from the state's 48 community colleges in 2020 despite the enrollment dip, the sixth highest annual graduation rate.

Only two community colleges saw enrollment increases this spring — McHenry County College and Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. The report did not include demographic information, but ICCB said it would analyze that information in the summer to more fully understand the pandemic's toll.

The spring data mirrors what ICCB saw in the fall, when enrollment was also down 14%. Then, enrollment for Black and Latino students declined about 19% compared with a 12% decrease for white students.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education, which oversees four-year universities, hasn't yet released spring enrollment data.

Source: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-illinois-college-enrollment-spring-covid-tt-20210505-tng3jsbjejbchj5324sjoaggky-story.html

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Can you get into college without an ACT or SAT? University of Illinois might extend test-optional admissions beyond the COVID-19 pandemic that prompted the change


March 22, 2021

By Elyssa Cherney - CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Nearly half of all undergraduate applicants declined to submit ACT or SAT scores to Illinois' largest university during the pandemic-altered admissions cycle — the first time in decades that students could choose whether to share results from the high-stakes exams.

Now, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wants to extend the test-optional policy for at least two more years, citing continued disruptions from COVID-19.

"We were able to make what I think are good, sound decisions with or without test scores, and we worked really hard not to penalize the students if they elected not to submit a test score," said Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions.

About 40% of in-state students withheld test scores, compared with 60% of international students and 25% of out-of-state students, Borst said. In total, about 44% of all prospective students opted to apply without test scores and the overall number of undergraduate applications jumped significantly, particularly for competitive programs such as computer science, Borst said.

The recommendation to expand test-optional admissions for 2022 and 2023 applicants relates solely to challenges posed by the pandemic — such as limited opportunities for high school students to take the exams — and was not in response to long-standing equity concerns that have prompted many universities to abandon the requirement altogether.

The decision, however, isn't finalized. Despite support from the Faculty Senate, U. of I.'s board of trustees must also approve the proposal.

In May, the board will also consider requests from the Springfield and Chicago campuses to extend test-optional admissions for another two years "because of the pandemic and to encourage talented students to apply to our institutions," according to spokeswoman Kirsten Ruby.

UIC has already waived test requirements for first-year undergraduate applications through fall 2022.

More than two dozen colleges and universities across the state have adopted test-optional admissions since 2005, according to the Partnership for College Completion, a Chicago-based organization that advocates for low-income, first generation students and students of color. The PCC has called for all schools in Illinois to drop testing requirements in the wake of COVID-19, saying inconsistent practices will limit less-resourced students' chances to attend selective institutions.

Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the PCC, said years of research demonstrate that high school grade-point average is a better predictor of college success and that test scores tend to correlate with income brackets and a family's ability to pay for expensive test preparation lessons.

"That message has resonated and been received by universities all over the country, even before the pandemic," Westbrook said, noting how the University of Chicago and DePaul University previously went test optional.

Some supporters of using standardized tests in college admissions say the scores can help less privileged students stand out and provide important data to prospective students about an institution's academic environment.

While equity isn't at the core of U. of I.'s proposed extension, professors opened the door to that conversation. When the Faculty Senate overwhelmingly approved the test-optional policy at a meeting this month, it also called for the creation of a task force "to evaluate the efficacy and fairness of entrance exams."

The task force would collect data to examine the impact of the test-optional policy on student enrollment, performance and diversity in coming years.

U. of I. isn't alone in revising its admissions policy. Other Big 10 schools including the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Penn State University are stretching the test-optional protocols through 2023 while others, most notably the University of California, are exploring permanent options to ditch standardized tests.

Competitive private colleges such as Harvard and Stanford universities will also continue a test-optional policy for another year.

"We urge students not to jeopardize their health or well-being to take future sittings of these non-required tests," according to a message on Stanford's website, which also notes there will be limited access to admission testing worldwide.

For Illinois students, scheduling exams proved difficult last year, when the pandemic hit in the spring and school districts abruptly shut down for extended periods. National testing dates for the ACT and SAT were canceled time and again.

Many Illinois students take the SAT just once — for free at school — and don't have access elsewhere, so the Illinois State Board of Education, with permission from the federal government, waived its completion as a graduation requirement for students who are now 12th graders.

Now Illinois schools must offer the SAT to current juniors in April or have them test as seniors in October, according to ISBE. The U.S. Department of Education won't allow districts to skip assessments for a second year, saying data is needed to assess student progress and learning loss.

But it's still not clear how many chances applicants will have to test.

"I don't want a student to be traveling great distances to take the SAT or ACT again because he or she isn't happy with their score," said Borst, the U. of I. undergraduate admissions director.

That seemed to be a challenge for international students too. Borst said many likely struggled to find testing opportunities since international students comprised the largest group to apply without exams, despite historically scoring well. With more than 7,600 international students enrolled in fall 2020, U. of I. boasts one of the largest populations of international scholars of any American university.

Yet for students everywhere, the biggest question is the same: Will applying without tests be a disadvantage?

Borst said there was no significant different in acceptance rates between students who submitted test scores and students who didn't, when comparing candidates within the same grade-point average.

"What we learned through the review cycle this year is that, by and large, test scores acted more as confirmation for us," Borst said, explaining that students who chose challenging classes and earned impressive grades tended to also have high test scores while students with worse grades and less rigorous courses had lower scores.

Borst declined to share total application numbers for this cycle, saying they're still in flux. But schools across the country have reported a surge in undergraduate applications, which some attribute to the more lenient test-optional protocols.


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

IL State Sen. Scott Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read PCC's first Policy Quarterly newsletter today.

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Illinois revamps college-level developmental education with goal of improving completion rates


February 2021

by Tim Anderson - Stateline Midwest

This past summer, following the killing of George Floyd, legislators across the country began asking questions about racial justice and disparities in their own states. Among them was Illinois Rep. Carol Ammons, and one of her questions, along with other leaders in her state's Legislative Black Caucus, was this: "Is this just a police issue?"
"Our answer was no," she says.
Their legislative response was to develop a sweeping policy agenda built on four pillars: criminal justice reform, economic equity and opportunity, health care and education. Much of the work on that last pillar fell to Ammons, last year's chair of the House Higher Education Committee. Her efforts culminated in January with the passage of HB 2170. The measure seeks changes at all levels of the education system, with an overarching goal of advancing racial equity.
On the higher-education side, one piece of that bill illustrates the kind of systematic reforms being sought. It has to do with how the state's community colleges deliver developmental education to students, and how these institutions choose who takes part in this coursework.
Developmental education is remedial instruction in subjects such as English and math, often traditionally taken before students can move on to college-level, credit-bearing courses. State-level reforms in this policy area became "a centerpiece," Ammons says, in part because of what legislators learned in committee testimony over the summer.
In Illinois, almost half of high school graduates enrolled full-time in a community college are placed in developmental education. Among minority students, this rate is even higher — nearly 71 out of every 100 Black students, for example, and among this group, only six of 100 go on to graduate.
"The traditional developmental-education courses cost students time, money and financial aid, but they don't count toward college credit," Ammons says. "It becomes a barrier."

HB 2170 seeks to change that.

First, community colleges must look beyond standardized test scores and college-placement tests when determining who gets placed in remedial education. For example, a graduating high school student who has a high grade-point average or who has successfully completed college-level or transitional classes must be placed in credit-bearing courses.

Second, HB 2170 uproots the traditional developmental-education approach, calling for it to be replaced with an "evidence-based model that maximizes a student's likelihood of completing an introductory college-level course within his or her first two semesters."

One likely result: community colleges' adoption of a "co-requisite model," under which students are placed directly into college-level coursework with concurrent instructional supports.

"What we've seen with the traditional model is that 18 percent of Black students in math and 29 percent in English completed a gateway course with a C or better in three years," says Emily Goldman, senior policy manager for the Partnership for College Completion.

"With the co-requisite model, it's 69 percent and 64 percent."

Illinois isn't alone in seeking these kinds of policy changes. More states around the country are recognizing the traditional model as an obstacle to postsecondary completion, says Nikki Edgecombe, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center.

The loss of time and money (including the possible exhaustion of financial aid) while taking remedial courses are factors, she notes, but so is the impact on a student's academic outlook.

"It can be demotivating for a student, 'I applied to college, they let me in, and now they won't let me take college classes,' " Edgecombe says. "Getting students into and through their gateway courses is important to generating academic momentum." 

Source: https://www.csgmidwest.org/policyresearch/0221-developmental-education-Illinois.aspx

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