BY Lauren Grimaldi, PCC Communications Associate

Did you know there are 184,000 first-generation college students in Illinois? Nationally, NASPA’s Center for First-Generation for Student Success reports that 1 in 3 undergraduates, totaling nearly 5 million students, identify as first-gen. The first in their families to attend college, and a growing demographic on campuses everywhere, first-gen students face social and financial barriers to college access, persistence, and completion from struggling to juggle school and work or simply feeling overwhelmed and out of place. It is clear that our lawmakers and institutions need to prioritize first-gen students to support their success.

This First Generation College Celebration Day, we’re lifting up the work happening here in Illinois to ensure every Illinois student who desires to earn a degree has the resources and support needed to access, persist, and complete their program regardless of their family background or history of attainment. 

What the Illinois Legislature Is Doing

Commission on Equitable Public University Funding 

For two decades, Illinois has disinvested in its public universities leading to inequitable and inadequate funding. Currently, 99 percent of higher education funding in Illinois is distributed without a formula, meaning, there is no system to ensure every institution has what it needs to adequately serve the students it enrolls.

First-gen students in Illinois have paid the price for this as the state universities that tend to serve greater percentages of first-gen students have been the most underfunded.

The Commission on Equitable Public University Funding is tasked not only with creating a formula to address these inequities, but with doing so in a way that ensures every university in the state has what it needs to help students. 

Through its work, the 33-person commission, which includes elected officials, representatives of Illinois’ 12 public universities, state agencies, nonprofit leaders, and unions, will address what it would look like to adequately, stably, and equitably distribute higher ed funding in Illinois. Their ultimate recommendation is due to the Illinois General Assembly by July 2023 and will be deeply important to the future of all students in Illinois– including those who are first-gen. 

Monetary Award Program (MAP) Funding 

For many Illinoisans, college is out of reach without substantial financial aid. Illinois created MAP in 1967 with the intent of covering the full cost of tuition at Illinois public colleges for all students from low-income families— but lagging state investment has led to a crisis for MAP and Illinois students. 

This spring, however, the Illinois General Assembly passed a $122M increase in MAP Funding for the FY23 budget. The historic investment could make it possible for roughly 15,000 more students, up to 155,000 students overall, across the state to receive a MAP grant. This investment also allows for the coverage of up to 55% of average tuition and fees at community colleges and up to 42% of average tuition and fees at public universities. 

While this was a major step forward in terms of college affordability for first-gen students, more work needs to be done to ensure all students are not only able to go to college, but to also succeed and reach degree completion. 

What PCC Is Doing to Help First-Generation College Students 

Public Policy 

In addition to our continued call for the state to invest in MAP to help students with limited financial resources afford their college education, PCC is collaborating with nonprofit and community partners in fighting for student centered policies that remove barriers to access and completion for first-gen students and other students who are traditionally overlooked and underrepresented on college campuses. 

We’re supporting postsecondary institutions across the state in their on-the-ground work to ensure every student enrolled has resources and supports they need to succeed and graduate. 

As a founding member of the Coalition for Transforming Higher Education Funding, PCC meets each month with a growing community of leaders and organizations from across the state who care about every Illinois’ college student.

We build awareness about the need for an adequate, stable and equitable funding formula for IL’s public universities. We track and discuss the progress of the Commission on Equitable Public University Funding in its work to research, analyze and identify an equity-based funding model for Illinois public universities. Most importantly, we strive to make sure that students’ lived experiences are considered and elevated as crucial in the creation of that model wherein every public institution has the state resources it needs to adequately serve the students they enroll. 

College and University Partnerships

In 2018, PCC launched the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative (ILEA) with 25 institutional partners pledging commitments to eliminating racial and socioeconomic achievement disparities in college completion on their campuses through the  implementation of evidence-based practices set forth in their equity plans. 

Through these equity plans, institutions have redesigned first-year student experiences, including orientation and advising, to create a greater sense of belonging for students. Colleges and universities additionally invested in structures that help faculty implement inclusive learning practices particularly in gateway courses. They’ve also implemented new practices that connect students to resources throughout their college experience, particularly in their first semester on campus in order to help them along their journey. 

With 62,000 of Illinois’ first-gen college students attending ILEA institutions, the efforts of the leaders, faculty, and staff that PCC partners with to remove barriers to equitable student success cannot be overstated.

How Others Can Join In 

  • Make public comment in a Commission Meeting or during the Legislative Session to let lawmakers know why first-gen students matter
  • Raise your voice on social media by sharing your story or amplifying issues facing first-gen students. Follow us on Twitter @Partnershipfcc for updates and new ways in which you can take action! 
  • Call and write to your state legislators about higher education funding and why it matters for first-gen students. 
  • Join the Coalition for Transforming Education Funding and expand our reach and advocate for first-gen students in Illinois. To join, email Community Engagement Manager Sonianne Lozada at