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

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

The Partnership for College Completion and Women Employed had the privilege of working with Leader Kimberly Lightford and Representative Carol Ammons on the education pillar of the ILBC agenda, culminating in HB 2170. The comprehensive bill aimed at reversing centuries of systemic racism in education, birth to career, passed both chambers on Monday, and now heads to the Governor's desk for signature. HB 2170 includes several policies that dismantle barriers to Black student success and advance equity across the P-20 spectrum. One such policy is Article 100, which creates the Developmental Education Reform Act.

Racial disparities in access to higher education and college completion, particularly those between Black and white students, remain stagnant and in some cases are widening. Though there are many factors that contribute to this, there is perhaps no barrier to equitable higher education outcomes as significant and well-researched as developmental education course placement and delivery. Developmental education (or remedial) coursework are classes that don't offer credit or progress toward a degree, but which colleges require many students to take before they can enroll in college-level coursework.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Mike Abrahamson, Policy Manager | January 6, 2021

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

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

$23 billion in aid to colleges and students

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

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

Pell grant improvements

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

The bill includes incarcerated students and students convicted of a drug-related offense in Pell eligibility, reversing a provision of the 1994 crime bill. It also no longer counts time spent in non-credit-bearing developmental education courses against a student's Pell eligibility, and restores Pell eligibility for students who have been defrauded by their college. The latter development 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 $2.75 billion in Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds, and Governor Pritzker should receive an amount of GEER funds similar to the $108 million included in the CARES Act, which he will be able to distribute 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.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Work, classes, financial aid — and now COVID-19: Life as a poor college student has only gotten tougher during the pandemic

November 28, 2020

by ELYSSA CHERNEY - Chicago Tribune

When Ximena Castillo needs to focus on her college coursework, she walks down the hall from her basement apartment in Chicago's Gage Park neighborhood and settles into her new study spot: the laundry room.

No one bothers her there. It's quiet and the temperature is comfortable — until, that is, one of her neighbors needs to wash or dry a load.

But Castillo, a junior at Dominican University in River Forest, still prefers working there than in the small unit she shares with her parents, which is full of distractions. She used to live on campus, but she moved home after the coronavirus pandemic erupted and doesn't have her own bedroom anymore.

"I don't feel comfortable going to a cafe or anything currently," said Castillo, 20, who worries she could expose her relatives to COVID-19. The laundry room is "not the best, but not the worst. I would prefer to be outside with my dogs because I like sitting in nature, but it's way too cold for that right now."

Finding a setting conducive to schoolwork is just one of the myriad challenges low-income college students face as they try to continue their education despite pandemic-related setbacks.

Some students have withdrawn from school because of changing economic circumstances, problems with online learning or difficulty connecting to virtual student services.

According to U.S. census data from August, nearly 7 million people said they canceled college plans for the fall because their income had changed during the pandemic and they could no longer pay.

Overall undergraduate enrollment at U.S. colleges is down about 4.4%, with the greatest declines seen in community colleges and among first-year students, according to the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse. While the NSC does not break the numbers down by socioeconomic status, nontraditional and low-income students typically favor community colleges.

In Illinois, fewer students have applied for federal and state financial aid since schools closed down in March compared with the same time last year, according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which administers need-based grants to college students. That's a sign low-income students might be abandoning college plans altogether instead of seeking help with tuition.

"For our low-income students, they are obviously struggling with their education and helping out with their families," said Jacqueline Moreno, an executive staff member at ISAC. "It's not entirely different from what low-income students face when they are first-generation college students in any year — it's just exacerbated right now, and people are paying more attention."

Unlike in families where going to university is expected, Moreno said, low-income and first-generation college students often feel guilt for pursuing higher education and not immediately entering the workforce to help with household bills.

Castillo, a graphic design major, is trying her best to stay on track. She's refinanced her student loans, received help from her school's COVID-19 relief fund and taken on extra jobs to put toward her tuition.

Her mom, who works at a Little Caesars, and her father, a construction worker on medical leave prior to the pandemic, don't make enough to cover the cost but have always encouraged her to pursue higher education, though they didn't go to college.

But between picking up shifts as a hostess at a University Village restaurant and trying to complete her coursework, Castillo is often exhausted. She's still more than $2,000 behind on school payments and can't register for spring classes until she puts forward more money, she said.

At the same time, her shifts at the restaurant have dried up as business slows due to the pandemic and the ban on indoor dining. Castillo used to work up to five days a week at Bar Louie but is now lucky if she gets scheduled for one.

"It's a lot on my plate," said Castillo, who went to George Westinghouse College Prep in East Garfield Park, part of Chicago Public Schools. "I feel like either my work suffers or my school suffers, and it's so hard.

"For a while I was juggling two jobs on top of school, and I felt like I was drowning. No sleep. Constantly on energy drinks and coffee just to get by. And it was so unsatisfying because I would do my best at everything and get half done."

'It went downhill this semester'

Taking time off from college was not part of Jony Estrada's plan. Though he was nervous about starting classes this fall at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Estrada had been eager to study economics and wanted to minor in finance.

The 21-year-old, however, began to feel overwhelmed with virtual learning and the amount of coursework. The large class sizes didn't help — Estrada said he grew anxious waiting for professors to reply to emailed questions — and he struggled to connect with UIC tutors when he tried to reach them by phone.

"I never considered taking a gap year until this year, when this whole pandemic started," said Estrada, who lives in the West Elsdon neighborhood, near Midway Airport, with his parents. "It went downhill this semester. I don't know if it's because I'm a new student and I'm not familiar with how things work around here or just because of the work."

Estrada earned his associate degree from Loyola University Chicago over the summer and participates in a program through the nonprofit Bottom Line, which helps low-income and first-generation students reach college and obtain a degree.

While Estrada hoped to continue making progress this semester, he felt staying in school would negatively affect his mental health, so he dropped his four classes just before midterms.

Chris Broughton, executive director of Bottom Line's Chicago operations, said most of the 1,500 students in his programs are sticking with school even though they don't like online classes.

"About 85% or more of our students are staying enrolled in college and trying to persist and navigate this new remote learning environment, even though it's been a challenge," he said. "Students are generally feeling dissatisfied and not enjoying that experience in the way they envisioned."

For now, Estrada hopes to get an internship in a business-related field as he decides whether to return to UIC in the spring. He's not sure if he should wait until next year, when there might be a better chance for in-person learning to resume.

"I will graduate because that's my goal also ― to get a diploma, to get a bachelor's degree ― but I think right now I need a little break," he said. "I just don't think I'm ready for this semester."

Deepening inequities

While anecdotes of students delaying college abound, the Illinois Board of Higher Education is trying to prevent students from pausing their studies.

As part of a new campaign called "Stay the Course," IBHE is publicizing data that shows "a significant percentage" of students who take gap years never complete college. The trend is especially prevalent for low-income students, rural students and students of color, the campaign says.

"Almost all of the new jobs created since the 2008 recession require some kind of credential beyond high school," the IBHE campaign says in social media posts and online messages.

According to one NSC study, only 10.5% of roughly the 1.6 million students who had dropped out of Illinois colleges returned to school between 2013 and 2018. Across all states, only 13% returned, and fewer graduated.

But today, as the pandemic enters its ninth month and a new wave of infections triggers statewide restrictions, some of the obstacles can seem insurmountable.

Jermaine Lash, who attended City Colleges of Chicago, is also taking this semester off because of problems with his financial aid.

Lash, 21, of Englewood, said he is seven credits away from earning an associate degree in business administration from Richard J. Daley College, one of the community college network's campuses. But complications with his Federal Pell Grant, assistance that goes to undergraduates with exceptional financial need, have prevented him from enrolling in fall classes.

Lash's advisers at One Million Degrees, an organization that helps Illinois community college students, said his predicament is especially difficult because he must deal with virtual student services at CCC during the arduous process of verifying his financial records.

Part of the holdup: Lash's mother recently died from health issues unrelated to the pandemic, and he can't access her tax documents, Lash said.

"I feel like it would be 10 times better if I could just talk to them in person," Lash said. "Then they'll get a better understanding and help guide me to the right path on figuring out a solution."

Until then, Lash is working in the deli at a Jewel-Osco close to downtown. He hopes the paperwork will be sorted out in time for spring classes but worries he might need to skip next semester too.

"I just want to finish this. I like college," he said. "I went ever since I got out of high school. ... Ever since then, I've never taken a break or anything. So now this is something new to me. ... It doesn't really feel right."

As a whole, Illinois community colleges are enduring a major hit from the pandemic, with enrollment plunging nearly 14% this fall, according to data from the Illinois Community College Board.

While IBHE hasn't released fall enrollment figures for the state's public universities, the NSC estimates overall college enrollment in Illinois dropped by 6.4%.

The gap indicates how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting low-income communities of color, said Lisa Castillo Richmond, managing director of the Partnership for College Completion, a Chicago nonprofit. She's concerned the pandemic will further deepen inequities in higher education.

"Our community colleges serve our most vulnerable students," she said. "They serve much greater proportions of low-income students, first-generation students, African American students and Latinx students."

The number of students seeking financial aid through state and federal grants has also dropped off since the pandemic closed schools in March, a sign that college may seem out of reach for some.

As of mid-November, the state's need-based Monetary Award Program had received 8% fewer applications from eligible students compared with the same point last year, according to ISAC.

For the 2021-22 school year, applications from MAP-eligible students have dropped by 9%, though it's still early in the cycle. Submissions only opened Oct. 1.

'Students will work their tails off'

During the pandemic, Dominican University has seen a "dramatic increase" in financial aid appeals, which students can file when there's a change in their economic situation.

For many, that's due to a family member losing a job, health care costs and other unforeseen expenses, said Victoria Spivak, assistant vice president of student enrollment services and director of financial aid.

"Dominican serves a very high-needs population," she said. "We are over 50% Pell eligible. ... We also serve a significant number of undocumented students."

In response to financial aid appeals, Dominican provided additional institutional aid and also distributed money made available to students through the federal coronavirus relief program. Students can use those grants to pay for pandemic-related expenses including food, housing and technology. So far, Dominican had awarded nearly $1.5 million in such grants, a spokeswoman said.

Broughton, of Bottom Line, said his organization also doled out more than $160,000 to help students with groceries and other emergency expenses over the last 10 months through a new fund.

But for students like Castillo, the struggle continues. Her mom lost two weeks of wages, she said, after someone at Little Caesars contracted COVID-19 and she had to quarantine due to the exposure.

Castillo has more time to study since her shifts at Bar Louie have been reduced, but she's anxious she won't have enough money to pay down her balance in time for spring classes.

Students can't register for courses if they owe $1,000 or more in unpaid fees, said Mark Carbonara, Dominican's director of academic advising and first-year experience, who's been helping Castillo look for more scholarships.

"Our students will work their tails off — second and third shift ― in order to pay for college," but those jobs are disappearing because of COVID-19, he said.

While it's nerve-wracking to wait, Castillo said she remains hopeful she'll come up with money to attend next semester. She said the adversity will make her a stronger person in the end.

"I just remind myself how lucky I am to even have the opportunity to go to school," she said. "I know a lot of people in my neighborhood who didn't have the same opportunities as I did."

Source: https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-covid-19-illinois-low-income-college-students-20201127-53zqwvncw5colb72ni3ylxgjwu-story.html

This article was also featured in the Tyler Morning Telegraph and the Herald & Review.

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Guest Blog: Fallen Flat on the Shoulders of My Students

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

Keisha Rembert

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

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

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

My students have given and Illinois has taken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Experts discuss possible solutions to college affordability in Illinois

October 21, 2020

by MIKE MILETICH - WSILTV.com

SPRINGFIELD (ILLINOIS CAPITOL BUREAU) – State lawmakers hope to craft a plan to make college more affordable, especially for many in low-income communities.

Experts say tuition rates continue to soar compared to the average income for those going to college or tech schools. They also told lawmakers community colleges haven't been exempt from the rise in costs due to inflation. Some feel financial aid is critical to providing access to higher education for students in low-income communities.

"We have families that are priced out not just from college attendance in general at four year institutions, but also public two year institutions," said Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor noted dips in attendance align with a lack of diversity in funding models. Zamani-Gallaher feels the state needs more incentives and opportunities to attract students to continue their education.

Currently, five community colleges in Illinois offer promise programs to help high school graduates with full scholarships.

"When combined with Pell and MAP grants, many community college students that benefit from promise programs can attend college without any out-of-pocket costs in terms of tuition and fees," said Brian Durham, Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB).

However, the promise programs fall under a category of "last dollar" programs. Durham explained students have to take advantage of all other options of aid before they access funding from promise programs.

Importance of financial aid
Data from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission showing costs for low-income students.

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) also feels financial aid is critical to providing higher education to students in low-income communities.

Executive Director Eric Zarnikow says 54% of MAP recipients are first-generation college students or have no financial resources for college.

"MAP is supporting about 60% of Black undergraduates and well over half of Latino/Latina undergrads attending public universities," Zarnikow said.

He also highlighted work with Gov. JB Pritzker's office to identify a plan to improve grant aid. Zarnikow said combining a $50 million increase in MAP funding with an effort to put 15% of those funds towards community college students could cover tuition and fees for most MAP-eligible community college students.

"He aimed to make community college tuition-free for MAP eligible students whose families make under $45,000 a year. That was essentially free community college program for families making under that amount," Zarnikow added.

Strong free college programs

Meanwhile, the Partnership for College Completion argues Illinois has the framework for a free four-year college program through MAP grants.

"We frankly believe very strongly in the mission of MAP to serve our lowest income students and our neediest students in our state and prioritizing our public resources to do that," Executive Director Kyle Westbrook said.

Sarah Labadie, Associate Director of Policy for Women Employed, feels the idea of free college is attractive to many people. While some community colleges function tuition-free, Labadie noted the state doesn't market it that way.

"If designed really well, a free college program or even remarketing our current program could really ensure that we're able to attract more students to higher education who otherwise think it's out of reach," Labadie explained.

She told lawmakers strong free college programs ensure students leave college without debt. Labadie said successful programs allow anyone to take advantage of the assistance and cover costs for four years of education.

Planning for the future


Many hope the state could explore an equity-based funding model for college similar to the K-12 evidence-based model.

"Even if we gave more money to this system, it is not going to bring equity and justice when it comes to communities of color. It is not designed that way and we have to accept that, find the flaw in it, and fix the design," added Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana).

The Illinois Board of Higher Education hosted focus groups and created a survey for people to share solutions. Executive Director Ginger Ostro hopes to adopt their strategic plan by late March with support from the ICCB and ISAC. Still, Ostro said that would only be the start of the process.

"We will have the need for a series of policy changes, state-level practice changes, as well as institutional-level changes," Ostro explained. "As we go over the next couple of months, there's really an opportunity here for all of us to come together and decide what direction we want to go. How are we going to address these inequities that we've seen in the higher education system? How are we going to meet workforce needs, and how are we going to drive the state's economy?"

Source: https://wsiltv.com/2020/10/21/experts-discuss-possible-solutions-to-college-affordability-in-illinois/ 

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PCC: Vote 'Yes' to Fair Tax and Help Build a Pathway to More Equitable Higher Education in Illinois

Early voting begins today in Illinois, and with it, the opportunity to increase our state's revenue and set the stage for increased funding for higher education. The proposed Fair Tax amendment aims to change the income tax rate from a flat rate (taxing everyone at the same rate) to a graduated rate. Ninety-seven percent of Illinoisans will see either no tax increase at all or a tax cut; this change will increase taxes only on Illinois' wealthiest residents. By passing the fair tax referendum this fall, state leaders will not only raise more than $3B a year, but more importantly, create a pathway to adequately fund colleges and universities, invest in college students, and build a strong future for our state.

Support for a fair tax system could not come at a more pivotal time. The state is reeling from the fallout of an unprecedented public health crisis that has had deep economic implications for colleges, students, families, and Illinois communities. For students, higher education remains the surest way to the middle class and will be more important than ever to help students and their families recover from the pandemic. According to the Pew Research Center, the unemployment rate in May was lowest among workers with a bachelor's degree or higher (7.2%), the only group not to experience an unemployment rate in the double digits. Similarly, those with a postsecondary degree or credential will likely fare better in the recovery, as over 95 percent of jobs created after the Great Recession went to workers with at least some college education.

Amidst the fallout, Illinois colleges and universities have persisted in carrying on their missions. Despite significant strains on existing resources, they continue to deploy critical resources to students and community members who have been most impacted by the virus, demonstrating their unique value to the future vitality of our state. As the state faces the ongoing impact of COVID-19, investment in higher education will be critical to supporting institutions and equipping students with the resources they need to enroll and persist in college and achieve their career aspirations.

However, as the proverbial budget-balancing wheel, without additional funding from the federal government or new state revenue, colleges and universities are preparing for the worst. Just this month, the Governor asked state agencies to plan for 5% cuts in the current year and 10% cuts next year. This is troubling news for all institutions but could be devastating for Illinois' most financially vulnerable colleges and universities, often the same institutions that serve higher percentages of Black and Latinx students. This is particularly concerning now, as COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx communities and exacerbating inequities experienced by students of color. Cuts to the Monetary Award Program (MAP) or to institutions serving marginalized students will undoubtedly result in more pronounced equity gaps in access and completion for Illinois' Black and Latinx students and students from low-income communities. For many, it could close the door to higher education altogether.

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

When filling out your ballot this fall, vote yes on a tax system that will work towards economic equality and provide Illinois the revenue boost it needs to fund critical services, like higher education.

*Public higher education institutions and employees are limited in their ability to take action on behalf of Fair Tax. If you're interested in supporting a fair tax system in Illinois as an individual, sign on to endorse Fair Tax here. 

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

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

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

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

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

Developing the ILEA Equity Plan

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

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

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

Supporting Equity Plan Development

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

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

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


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

In Partnership,
Julian Williams, Ph.D.

Equity Program Manager | Partnership for College Completion 

Learn more about Equity Plans here.


ILEA Equity Speaks

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

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PCC Letter to Illinois General Assembly Higher Education Committees

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

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

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Choosing Illinois Community Colleges: Investing in Our Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about the campaign here.

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