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

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January 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

35 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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January 19, 2021

By PETER MEDLIN - WNIJ and WNIU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source: https://www.northernpublicradio.org/post/illinois-reforming-developmental-education-heres-why-advocates-say-its-racial-equity-issue

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


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IBHE Announces Members of New Strategic Planning Advisory Committee

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January 13, 2021

By IBHE - My Radio Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source: https://www.myradiolink.com/2021/01/13/illinois-board-of-higher-education-announces-members-of-new-strategic-planning-advisory-committee/


This report was also featured on River Bend.

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

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January 11, 2021

by By Peter Hancock - Capitol News Illinois

Source: https://www.starcourier.com/story/news/2021/01/11/higher-education-reform-bill-unveiled-aims-racial-equity-through-scholarships-program-reforms/6627073002/

This report was also featured on WGLT News.

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

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December 20, 2020

By Erica Gunderson - WTTW News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 2, 2020

by PETER MEDLIN - NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: https://www.nprillinois.org/post/new-report-says-illinois-should-change-how-it-funds-higher-ed#stream/0

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

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Experts discuss possible solutions to college affordability in Illinois

WSILtv

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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