The Partnership for College Completion (PCC) is a regional nonprofit organization focused on increasing college completion rates in and around Chicago, particularly for low-income, first generation and other underrepresented college students. PCC seeks to champion policies and practices that ensure all students in and around Chicago and across the state graduate from college.

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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Chicago State Organizes Statewide Effort To Boost College Success For Illinois’ Black Students


July 30, 2020


Faced with a 25% drop in Black enrollment at Illinois' public universities and colleges, a group of university officials, business leaders and advocacy groups are joining together to try to improve outcomes for Black students. The drop in enrollment, as well as declining graduation rates, have come while rates for other underrepresented student groups have increased.

Chicago State University, Illinois' only predominantly Black university, announced Thursday it is forming a working group to increase opportunities for Black students to enroll and graduate from college and find good jobs.

"Black students are having a different experience from that of white students," said CSU President Zaldwaynaka Scott. "[We] need to figure out what is at the root cause that is creating more obstacles, roadblocks and impediments to that."

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Black student enrollment at public universities and community colleges dropped 25% between 2013 and 2017. The percentage of Black students graduating from public universities and community colleges dropped 12% during that same time.

A recent report from the nonprofit, the Education Trust, recently gave the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago "F" grades for their Black student enrollments, which are 6% and 8% respectively, and make up a slightly smaller percentage of the student body than they did two decades ago. This week, the university pledged $2 million to prioritize faculty research and campus discussions on systemic racism.

While Illinois has seen its black population decline in recent years, Scott said there are more fundamental issues at play, which has been made more apparent by the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Black community and the current national reckoning on systemic racism and policing after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

"This whole system is not working for Black people," Scott said. "It's not just higher ed's problem. Our entire state are stakeholders in the outcome."

The working group will be chaired by Scott, Illinois Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago), John Atkinson, Chair of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and Karen Freeman-Wilson, President of the Chicago Urban League. The group includes public and private university leaders, state lawmakers, and representatives from businesses including John Deere, AT&T and the Hyatt Corporation. It also includes representatives from community advocacy groups.

"Through a long history of disinvestment in our state's public universities and community colleges, Illinois has, through state policy, limited opportunities for students and families who are least able to afford to attend college, and those students are disproportionately African American," said Kyle Westbrook, executive director of the Partnership for College Completion and a member of the working group. "[I] hope that this collection of legislative and institutional leaders can increase the momentum towards enacting policies to remove barriers to success for Black students."

Scott said she'd like to see recommendations that focus on the transition from high school to college to better support Black students interested in a degree, including financial literacy and more college-level coursework in high schools. She also said continued financial resources beyond tuition grants and scholarships are key for students who are discouraged or overwhelmed by the additional cost of college, such as books, living expenses and food. Meanwhile, Westbrook pointed to policies that he says are barriers for students, including using standardized test scores for admissions and requiring underprepared college students to take developmental or remedial education classes before being able to take college-level courses.

The first meeting is scheduled for September 10. The goal is to develop an equity plan that includes policy recommendations by January 2021 ahead of the next legislative session.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter@WBEZeducationand@McGeeReports.


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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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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Brandon Nichols, Ed.D, Olive–Harvey College

1. What is your current role/title?

I currently serve as Vice President, Academic Affairs.

2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?

Sociology – BS, University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign,

Clinical Psychology – MA, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC,

Counseling Psychology – Ed.D, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC

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

Mentorship and socialization opportunities were essential to my development, growth, success. For minoritized students, mentoring is often considered a crucial resource to foster support systems of role models and to garner the academic success. At my undergraduate and graduate institutions, mentor groups, extended new student orientation for students of color, social organizations, and guidance counseling for undeclared majors provided structure and knowledge gaps in navigating a path for successful completion.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?

It is gratifying to empower students in reaching their full potential by removing barriers that have historically impacted minoritized students. At Olive-Harvey College, we use a high-touch approach to engage every student to meet their needs to ensure success and completion for all students seeking a credential.

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

As Vice President of Olive-Harvey College, I am grounded in a person-centered and mission-driven approach, through a civic and equity lens. I am currently a member of the College's Illinois Equity Attainment Committee and supporter of the College's Equity Plan. The Plan details specific strategies to support academic success, social integration, and student completion. To support student completion efforts through equity, the College has developed tactics to refine classroom instruction, measuring learning, co-curricular learning, and civic. In my role, I am in support equity through the following​:

  • Faculty development of culturally responsive pedagogy and teaching

  • Multiple measures of learning assessments and tests to align with student learning preferences through face-to-face and hybrid modes of instruction

  • Social integration and exploratory co-curricular opportunities through field and work-based learning experiences

  • Civic engagement through public service events and social justice support (i.e. voter registration, trash clean-up, and community townhalls)

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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Brandon Nichols, Ed.D, Olive–Harvey College

1. What is your current role/title?

I currently serve as Vice President, Academic Affairs.

2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?

Sociology – BS, University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign,

Clinical Psychology – MA, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC,

Counseling Psychology – Ed.D, Argosy University (American School of Professional Psychology) – Washington, DC

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

Mentorship and socialization opportunities were essential to my development, growth, success. For minoritized students, mentoring is often considered a crucial resource to foster support systems of role models and to garner the academic success. At my undergraduate and graduate institutions, mentor groups, extended new student orientation for students of color, social organizations, and guidance counseling for undeclared majors provided structure and knowledge gaps in navigating a path for successful completion.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?

It is gratifying to empower students in reaching their full potential by removing barriers that have historically impacted minoritized students. At Olive-Harvey College, we use a high-touch approach to engage every student to meet their needs to ensure success and completion for all students seeking a credential.

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

As Vice President of Olive-Harvey College, I am grounded in a person-centered and mission-driven approach, through a civic and equity lens. I am currently a member of the College's Illinois Equity Attainment Committee and supporter of the College's Equity Plan. The Plan details specific strategies to support academic success, social integration, and student completion. To support student completion efforts through equity, the College has developed tactics to refine classroom instruction, measuring learning, co-curricular learning, and civic. In my role, I am in support equity through the following​:

  • Faculty development of culturally responsive pedagogy and teaching

  • Multiple measures of learning assessments and tests to align with student learning preferences through face-to-face and hybrid modes of instruction

  • Social integration and exploratory co-curricular opportunities through field and work-based learning experiences

  • Civic engagement through public service events and social justice support (i.e. voter registration, trash clean-up, and community townhalls)

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Op-Ed: City Colleges Makes Bold Move Toward Equity


July 14, 2020

by KYLE WESTBROOK, PH.D. - Crain's Chicago Business

For far too many of our students, and members of our community, the emails that filled our inboxes a month ago affirming the importance of racial equity, rang hollow. With no concrete, bold, and demonstrable action to follow, these messages can easily be filed away in the spam folder of white guilt relief. That email from a company or even a college or university may make the authors feel proud of a well-crafted response to the moment, but it does little to address the enduring structural racism baked into our institutions.

While companies such as Chicago's Quaker Oats and D.C.'s pro football team have made important steps to remove the worst iconography of racism and oppression from their brands, fewer have taken the most meaningful steps in actually investing money into dismantling institutional racism and providing the foundation for a future that has justice at its core.

This is why the incredible step taken by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado is so important. By cancelling the college debt for some 21,000 students who re-enroll in City Colleges, Mayor Lightfoot and Chancellor Salgado acknowledge two important facts: first, that the increasing cost of college limits opportunity for students who are least able to afford it, and second, that it is high time to get serious about investing in the tens of thousands of residents who started their journey to a degree or credential but were unable to complete it. This debt forgiveness program also represents a modest investment toward rectifying the economic injustice heaped on the backs of Chicago's black and brown communities for decades.

A 2017 Brookings Institute report described a crisis in which black student borrowers with a Bachelor's degree default at a rate five times higher than their white peers--20% versus 4%, respectively, making it no surprise that the wealth gap between black and white America has persisted. City Colleges of Chicago's investment announced this week can go a long way toward reversing this trend for the largely black and brown students who would be Fresh Start's major beneficiaries.

This important investment in our city's future should not stand alone but should be matched by other public and private colleges and universities in and around our city, and should provide the blueprint on how to aggressively prioritize racial equity now and in the future.

Here are 5 other steps that colleges and universities should take today to make good on their email messaging about racial equity:

  1. Permanently eliminate SAT and ACT from their admissions decisions.
  2. Eliminate or radically reduce developmental education courses which limit opportunities for black and brown students.
  3. Commit substantial resources to recruiting and retaining black and brown faculty.
  4. Make eliminating the racial gap in degree completion the highest priority for the institution and commit to sharing disaggregated data on completion and student progress.
  5. Actively recruit in every single high school in the city of Chicago to ensure that our institutions, especially our public institutions, represent the diversity of our student population.

If cash-strapped City Colleges can make this kind of investment in its future and racial justice at the same time, so can others.

Kyle Westbrook, Ph.D., is the founding executive director of the Partnership for College Completion, a nonprofit promoting policies, systems, and practices to ensure all students in Illinois graduate from college and achieve their career aspirations.


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The Partnership Stands in Solidarity with Those Fighting for Racial Justice


To do the work that we do is to sit inside and with full awareness of the enduring and unaddressed legacy of racism and injustice on which this country was founded and that continues to permeate every sector of our democracy, including education. The fight for justice in policing practices, in labor and the workforce, in housing policy, in healthcare, in criminal justice, in education, is—as we have been reminded this spring with COVID-19 and now with outcries for justice following the murder of George Floyd in police custody—the fight of this generation, the fight giving wind to our work. 

We stand with others in seeking, with urgency, justice in the near term for Mr. Floyd and his family, and in the long term, justice wherein all institutions of our society ensure that Black Americans have equitable access to the physical safety, educational advancement, and economic prosperity in this country for which they have been long overdue.

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With FY21 Budget, IL Lawmakers Affirm Commitment to Higher Ed Amid Crisis


During this difficult time of prolonged mourning, Illinois' higher education system received a bit of good news this week. Despite bleak state revenue forecasts, with some projecting a budget shortfall as great as $7.4 billion in fiscal year 2021, legislators last Sunday passed a budget that maintains level funding for higher education, providing a sense of stability to students and institutions in an otherwise uncertain time.

In the past, budget crises and recessions have resulted in states making heavy cuts to higher education, with low-income students and students of color largely bearing the increased costs of college. In the face of COVID-19, several states are seeing history repeat itself. Colorado, Ohio, New Jersey, and others have proposed significant cuts to their higher education budgets. However, in this year's budget, the Illinois legislature chose a different path. While the budget will rely on additional federal relief, if the federal government does their part, level-funding will help keep the doors to higher education open for most Illinois students.

Notable highlights related to the Partnership's legislative priorities include:

  • $451 million allocated for the Monetary Award Program (MAP)
  • $50 million in discretionary federal funds allocated to higher education
  • Public university operations funded at FY20 levels
  • 5% increase to Illinois Community College Board (ICCB)
  • Creation of a college emergency grant program

As we celebrate Illinois maintaining its higher education investment during this crisis, this first step - a critical one in paving the way for a full, equitable recovery - must be one among other key actions to ensure adequate and equitable funding for the state's colleges and universities well into the future. Throughout and moving beyond this crisis, lawmakers will have to be responsive to the needs of financially-vulnerable students and institutions. Level-funding alone will not help Illinois address affordability and access for all Illinoisans, eliminate disparities in college completion that have existed within our institutions for decades, or reach our 2025 college degree attainment goals. To do so, Illinois must continue to distribute federal and state resources equitably, ensuring that low-income students have the support they need to enroll, persist, and graduate, and that lower-resourced institutions, which disproportionately serve large numbers of low-income students – including those in our state's diverse community college system – have adequate funding.

Our state legislators' show of support for a stable higher education system could not come at a more pivotal time: as the state reels from the fallout of an unprecedented public health crisis that will have serious economic implications for some time. Amidst all of this, Illinois colleges and universities – with significant strains on existing resources – have persisted in carrying on their missions, deploying critical resources to students and community members who have been most impacted by the virus and demonstrating their unique value to the future vitality of our state. As Illinois and federal lawmakers face the ongoing impact of COVID-19, their continued commitment to and investment in higher education will be critical to positioning Illinois for a faster and more robust economic recovery. 
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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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For More Equitable Access, Test-Optional Approaches are Needed Statewide in Wake of Covid-19

Every student who aspires to college should have equitable access to the career pathway of their choice. But the reality is this: Students with more time, money, and technology to prepare for the SAT and ACT will always have an advantage over their peers. That is more true now than ever, in a context in which schools are closed and students do not have the same ability to prep for or take the test due to the Covid-19 public health crisis. As recently as this spring, the National Association for College Admission Counseling rightfully raised its own concerns over inequities that will inevitably arise from the College Board and ACT's proposal for home administration of SAT and ACT tests this fall. In such settings, low-income students, less likely to have access to the devices and internet connection necessary to take such tests, would further be put at a disadvantage. In the wake of the pandemic and its still-evolving fallout, colleges and universities should ensure prospective students have equitable access to their institution, by eliminating the requirement to submit ACT or SAT scores in their application packages.

Beginning with Knox College in 2005, over two dozen Illinois institutions have recognized that requiring SAT/ACT scores contribute to inequality by barring qualified students from admission and have moved to test-optional admission practices. But until all institutions adopt more equitable approaches, not all students – particularly those who are Black, Latinx, or low-income – will have access to the many higher education options Illinois has to offer. Without statewide action, the students most negatively impacted by COVID-19 - many of whom are low-income and students of color - will be blocked from admission to Illinois' more selective institutions.

In the wake of COVID-19, Illinois can ensure equitable access to public universities across the state by implementing a uniform, test-optional admissions policy for the next three years.

​IL Colleges and Universities That Have Adopted Test Optional Practices (as of Aug 9, 2020)

American Academy of the Art -- No test required (just application, interview, HS degree with transcript)
Augustana College -- Test-optional for applicants with 3.0+ GPA; must complete admissions interview; not for international students
​​Columbia College -- Test-optional (though uses test for merit-based scholarships), students take on-campus placement tests once admitted
​​DePaul University -- Test-optional
Illinois College -- Test-optional
Knox College -- Test-optional, still required for home-schooled students
​​Lake Forest College -- Test-optional and required to conduct an interview; still required for home-schooled and international
McKendree University -- Test-optional; still required for international, homeschooled, if have lower than 3.0, wish to receive some merit-based scholarships or be considered for Honors program
Monmouth College -- Test-optional
National Louis University -- No test required (need 2.0 GPA to qualify for admission)​
Northeastern University -- No standardized test score required for Fall 2020 enrollment application. → Details: "Effective immediately, Northeastern's Fall 2020 admissions decisions will be made strictly using grade-point average and curriculum."
Northern Illinois University -- "Test-blind" starting Fall 2021 freshman class
Quincy University -- Test-optional → Details: "For admission to the university in fall 2020, the new QU test-optional admissions policy only affects students who cannot take a standardized test. Beginning with admissions for fall 2021, students will not be required to submit test scores, though they will have the option to do so"
Southern Illinois University - Carbondale -- Test-optional (must have over 2.75 GPA)
Tribeca Flashpoint College -- Test optional
University of Chicago -- Test-optional
Western Illinois University -- Test-optional
Chicago State University
University of St. Francis -– Test-optional → Details: "New in 2020 & 21. With several dates for the SAT and ACT canceled in the face of COVID-19, USF has waived the requirement for those test scores for incoming freshmen."
Bradley University -- Test-optional → Details: Beginning with students applying for fall 2021 enrollment at Bradley University, undergraduate applicants will no longer be required to submit standardized test scores, ACT or SAT, for admission.
Dominican University -- Test-optional → Details: Will not require ACT and/or SAT scores for Fall 2020 and 2021 admissions
Governors State University -- Test-optional → Details: For the semesters Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, Governors State University has elected to move to a "test optional" admission process for incoming freshman applicants.
Northwestern University -- Test-optional → Details: SAT or ACT scores (OPTIONAL for 2020-21 cycle).
Illinois State University -- Test-optional → Details: No SAT or ACT score required for summer or fall 2021.
University of Illinois Chicago -- Test-optional Details: Optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.
University of Illinois Springfield -- Test-optional → "The University of Illinois Springfield will not require college bound high school seniors to submit standardized test scores as part of the application process for fall 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic."
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- Test-optional for Fall 2021 freshman applicants.
Elmhurst University -- Test-optional pilot for 2020-21 application year.
Greenville University -- Test-optional
Illinois Institute of Technology -- Test-optional for Spring 2021 and Fall 2021. "Students applying for fall 2020 admission are still required to submit their official standardized test scores.
Lewis University -- Test-optional → Details: "Lewis University has adopted a test-optional admission policy for incoming freshmen applying for the Fall 2021 semester"
North Park University -- Test-optional for 2020-2021 admissions → Details: "The application process for 2020-2021 will emphasize the whole student, as it always has, just without an SAT/ACT test score.
Saint Xavier University -- Test-blind for Fall 2021 applicants
Wheaton College -- Test-optional → Details: The submission of standardized test results is optional for all candidates.
Western Illinois University - Test-optional for Fall 2020 and Fall 2021 admissions.
​​​​​Add'l Sources: ​ needed? Email PCC Senior Communications Manager, Bravetta Hassell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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COVID-19 & Admissions: Webinar Highlights and Resources

Revisit or Share the Webinar Recording Here: 
COVID-19 Impacts on Entering College Freshmen in 2020


"Our flexibility during this time will make things better and make things bearable for students." - Tonishea Terry-Jackson, Dean of Enrollment Management, Kennedy-King College

While Covid-19 continues to have broad impact on how institutions are operating and delivering education to current students, currently, most panelists said the pandemic has not had a significant impact on their institution's admissions processes and timelines. Still key deadlines are being treated with fluidity as institutions explore how they can best serve admitted and prospective students in a virtual environment.

Moving Ever More Online, More Flexible
From Admitted Student Day at National Louis University, to financial aid counseling meetings at Arrupe College of Loyola University of Chicago, to Northeastern Illinois University's freshman orientation sessions and summer bridge program -- programs and services for admitted and prospective students are being shifted online. At National Louis, for example, admitted students and their families can visit YouTube for tutorials on navigating the student portal, understanding their award letter, and more.

Seeing the Silver Lining
The hope is that once institutions have adjusted to the disruption caused by COVID-19, leaders can take a step back and observe the opportunities created by this challenging time, said Dr. Carlos Gooden, Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Chicago State University. Practices that institutions traditionally have been unable or unwilling to do – well, now they are considering.


Resources Shared During Webinar
Strive Virtual College Exploration Week
Monday, April 20 - Thursday, April 23, 2020: 300+ colleges from 44 states and 10 countries. There will be 96 sessions over 4 days, and there will be day and evening options. The panel presentations cover a range of topics for juniors and underclassmen. It is free and open to students nationwide. Registration for students and parents is now live at

Illinois Board of Higher Education, Illinois Community College Board, and Illinois State Board of Education Dual Credit Guidance PDF.

Chicago State University
Chicago State's April virtual open house is April 16, 2020. The first open house is 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the second open house is 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. You can learn more at

City Colleges of Chicago
This April, the City Colleges of Chicago Board approved academic policy changes in light of the COVID-19 situation to provide some relief to students and help them complete their coursework in a timely fashion. Read the resolution here.

National Louis University - NLU Eagle Dream Scholarship
The Eagle Dream Scholarship gives undocumented students who plan to enroll at NLU the chance to receive $5,000 per year to help fund their education.

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COVID-19 Resources for ILEA Partners

As all of you are deploying much needed services and support to students, as well as making the shift to remote instruction and operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the PCC team has crowdsourced a variety of resources from higher education-oriented sources and media to offer you supports for teaching online, maintaining a focus on equity—particularly for our most vulnerable student populations—and addressing students' basic needs while navigating this new environment. Through this page, find news articles, webinar information, blog posts, and other resources for supporting students.

COVID-19 Resources for ILEA Partners
Access the COVID-19 Resources for ILEA Partners here.  

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PCC Policy Recommendations to Support Illinois’ Students in Response to Covid-19

​For many college students, institutions of higher learning address not just academic needs, but basic non-academic needs as well. College offers a reprieve from housing and food insecurity, access to health care and childcare, income through campus jobs, and a sense of community and purpose.

In the wake of the coronavirus however, that stability has been shaken as colleges and universities across Illinois and the United States have had to close or significantly limit access to classrooms, dining halls, residence halls, health clinics, libraries, and computer labs, shift learning to an online environment for an indefinite period of time, and restrict access to critical services and resources for students.

In response to the needs that have emerged from the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government just passed a sweeping stimulus package that includes relief for college students and institutions of higher education.

While this package will provide assistance to many college students, the needs of Illinois' students and institutions will likely surpass available federal resources. The Partnership offers its recommendations for equitably allocating federal aid and creating state policy that will most effectively and equitably restore the state's higher education sector after this crisis. Read PCC's full policy memo, Legislative Action to Support College Students in Response to COVID-19, here.

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An Important Update from the Partnership in light of Covid-19

PCC announcement
Dear PCC Friends and Supporters,

It is my hope this message finds you well and focusing your energies on the health and well-being of yourselves and your families as the coronavirus outbreak continues to slow public life considerably, and threaten the health of all our communities. In these rapidly-evolving times that are disrupting the lives of college students everywhere and challenging our higher education system in unprecedented ways, we wanted to update you on what actions the Partnership is taking and the resources we are developing in light of this situation.

Since the cancellation of the Spring 2020 ILEA Summit and the first meeting of the PCC/Aspen Equity Academy for Presidents and Cabinets, we've been working closely with our ILEA partners to understand their students' academic and non-academic needs as they've arisen during this crisis and how PCC can support institutions in addressing these. By next week, we will have compiled a list of needs organized by themes to share with the Board and other supporters interested in helping our institutions of higher education help our students. And in the coming days, we'll be sharing a list of resources related to online teaching, open-access resources, supporting students digitally, and other staff and faculty support resources with our partner institutions. Similarly, we are connecting with our Student Advisory Committee members to ascertain their concerns and provide support as needs are identified.

With the legislative session canceled this week and a truncated session expected, movement on our legislative agenda has been put on hold but our fight for necessary resources and supports for underrepresented students has not stopped. During a call we are hosting this week with higher education advocates and college access and success organizations, we will discuss what we're hearing from students, institutions, and crowdsourced resources, in order to brainstorm a coordinated response. Similarly, we are working closely with our partners in the state legislature to ensure any state response considers the unique hardship of our state's most vulnerable students. A memo with our recommendations will be shared in the near future. Further, through social media, we will ask our network to support both S. 3489, the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act, a federal bill that would allocate $1.2 billion over the next two years to college students in financial need and HB 5262, the appropriations bill Representative Smith introduced seeking a state appropriation to create and expand emergency grant programs in Illinois.

Finally, as the PCC team responds to the disruption created by the pandemic with information and recommendations for our stakeholders, we would be remiss to not be responsive to student needs as they arise now. Our communications team is leveraging our social channels to highlight resources stateside and nationwide – in financial assistance, internet access, educational materials and more – that may be of support to students seeking assistance. Resources are posted on PCC's Twitter account, and the full and regularly updated list can be found here.

As PCC learns more from the organizations and practitioners who are closest to students and receives updates from Springfield, we will continue to share the latest developments and provide an open feedback loop so that you can help us navigate this unprecedented time.

Thank you for your continued support.
Kyle Westbrook
Executive Director
Partnership for College Completion
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Important Update Regarding ILEA Programming

March 16, 2020

Dear ILEA Presidents & Leadership Teams,

We hope you are well and able to focus your energies on the health and well-being of your communities, as public life slows considerably. In this quickly evolving situation with COVID-19, we write to you again with updates about our programming.

At this time we will be holding the publication of institutional Equity Plans until a future date. We want to honor the significant efforts involved in the development of these plans over the last year and thus generate commensurate attention when they are released publicly. We will engage with your teams as a new plan for release develops.

Additionally, we will postpone the Awards & Special Announcements webinar scheduled for March 31 at 10AM until a more appropriate time. We look forward to a celebratory event when the timing is right.

The PCC will be responding to this public health situation with information and recommendations for students, colleges and universities, philanthropy, advocacy partners, and elected officials. We will be working closely with your teams as this work develops.

During these troubling and uncertain times, your partnership is more important to us than ever. Please remain virtually connected and consider us a resource to call upon. You all remain close in our thoughts.

Warm regards,
The Partnership Team
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Important Announcement Regarding ILEA Summit 3/31

Over the past few weeks the PCC has been closely monitoring and responding to the evolving situation with the COVID-19 (coronavirus). Our goal has been to protect the health and safety of all of our partners and to be a responsible participant in this collective global public health challenge.

Unfortunately, that has caused us to announce today that we are cancelling our March 31, 2020 Spring Summit at Northeastern Illinois University in order to work collectively to keep participants safe and prevent and slow the spread of the virus. We plan to work with ILEA teams and presenters to reschedule this event at a future date when it is safe to do so.

We will, however, plan to continue with a one hour webinar on 3/31 at 10AM that will be dedicated to ILEA awards and announcements.

Please feel free to reach out to the PCC Team at any time with any questions or concerns. Thank you and best wishes to all of you as you navigate these challenges on your campuses.
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Illinois Higher Education Leaders Withholding Judgment On Pritzker's Budget Bet


February 21, 2020


The budget plan unveiled by Gov. JB Pritzker's this week holds back funding increases for public schools and higher education if a proposed graduated income tax doesn't pass in November, endangering funding for two of his top priorities.

Some public school advocates and state leaders reacted swiftly, expressing disappointment and anger at the prospect of losing out on $150 million in new state funding.

But there has been little outcry among higher education leaders. This comes even though a $55 million increase for public universities and a $15 million increase for community colleges hangs in the balance. If voters don't approve the graduated income tax, that money won't materialize under the governor's budget plan.

"The higher education funding is absolutely necessary for us right now. At the same time I understand the money may not be there," University of Illinois at Chicago Chancellor Michael Amiridis said on Thursday. "They have to balance the budget. So I'm glad it's part of the budget and I hope it will be realized eventually."

Amiridis went as far as to describe Illinois' current higher education landscape as undergoing a "renaissance" at an event with the governor at the UIC campus.

"We have a governor who understands the importance of access to education, especially for low-socioeconomic background students," Amiridis told a crowd of university officials in the middle of the UIC library, as students chatted and hunched over books at tables nearby. "[He] not only talks about it, but also works to support it financially."

Illinois lawmakers increased general funding for the state's public colleges and universities funding by 8.2% last year, the largest percentage jump in nearly three decades. The increase drew applause after years of underinvestment and two years where public universities had to live with drastically reduced state appropriations during the budget impasse.

Pritzker's public support after that tumultuous time could explain why higher education leaders are quick to support him now, despite the proposal that could leave them with no budget increase next year..

Governors State University President Elaine Maimon said she believes the governor wants to do whatever he can to support higher education And the three higher education boards in Illinois touted the governor's proposal in a press release.

"This second year of increased investment signals that we have a champion who understands how important higher education is to students, families, employers, and the state as a whole," Ginger Ostro, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said in a statement.

The release did not mention that the funding is contingent on the graduated income tax. Instead, it focused on other funding proposals that are not reliant on passage of the tax, including increased money for need-based tuition grants, known as the Monetary Award Program.

Pritzker wants to make an additional $50 million available for low-income students to use toward tuition, increasing the total amount to over $500 million for the first time in decades.

He also set aside 15% of that money specifically for community college students, which state leaders believe would make community college tuition-free for all eligible students with family income under $45,000.

"The investment in a MAP set-aside for community college students is a commitment to equity, access and attainment for working families in Illinois," Brian Durham, executive director of the Illinois Community College Board, said in the release. "This set-aside will allow community college students to make decisions knowing they will have the support of the state."

Pritzker also proposed adding $27 million to the College Illinois! Program, which lets families save for college for a future student. He said the fund will run out of money in six years if the state doesn't put money toward the program. This program is also contingent on the graduated income tax, according to Pritzker's proposal.

He also wants to fund statewide implementation of the national college application so students could apply to all public-four year universities at the same time using one application. If included in the final budget, Illinois would be the first state to implement this policy. This is seen as another way to encourage students to remain in-state for college. Most Illinois students are already using the Common App, but for out-of-state schools. Pritzker also continued funding the merit-based AIM High grants, another way lawmakers have tried to attract Illinois students to enroll in-state.

State groups focused on higher education, including the Partnership for College Completion in Chicago, also said they understand the governor's decision to make the higher education funding increases contingent on new revenued. But they said it's important to keep advocating for increased investment.

"The governor and the General Assembly have demonstrated a willingness to invest in our students and our institutions that is noteworthy given our state's recent history," Kyle Westbrook, executive director of Partnership for College Completion, said in an email. "But we'll only be in a renaissance period when every eligible low-income student has the funding necessary to enroll in one of our colleges; when those colleges have student populations that are representative of our state's population; and when underrepresented minorities are graduating at the same rates as other students."

Northeastern Illinois University president Gloria Gibson had no comment on the issue. The University of Illinois system did not return multiple requests for comment. 

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.

​Original article:

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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Corey Williams, Governors State University

1. What is your current role/title?

I currently serve as Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Dean of Students and Interim Chief Diversity Officer.

2. Where did you earn your degrees and what did you study?

BA, Sociology, Stony Brook University,

MA, Higher Ed Admin, Chicago State University,

Ed.D. Education Leadership, DePaul University (June 2020 anticipated)

My dissertation research question is: Is there a relationship between cultural-based mentoring and academic persistence in African-American and Latinx male community college students?

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

As an undergrad, there was a clear disconnect between educational outcomes and equity. While I'm sure that there were programs and services geared towards student success at Stony Brook University in the early 90's, as a first-generation, low-income student, those programs weren't very well advertised. Also, as someone who immigrated from a foreign country, it was difficult for me to navigate the complexities of higher education as English was not my native language.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?

Being a catalyst for change that will ultimately impact every aspect of Governors State University.

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

In my many roles, I clearly understand that diversity does not mean that all of my students are equal and as such, I need to be more intentional in creating spaces to ensure that students truly feel supported. Additionally, coming together as a community (faculty, students, staff and external stakeholders) to discuss how to invest in structures that will best support our students.

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PCC’s Response to Governor Pritzker’s 2020 State of the State Address

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Today, the Governor delivered his first State of the State Address, and PCC was pleased to see that renewed investments in higher education were highlighted.

Increase in MAP Grants

Governor Pritzker acknowledged expanding student grants, which include the Monetary Award Program (MAP), saying that the state is "expanding scholarships to an additional 10,000 college-bound students."

The governor's $50 million increase in MAP last year was a crucial addition that allowed thousands more students to enroll and persist in college. Still, additional investments are needed; this year, tens of thousands of students will be denied aid despite being eligible and applying, and awarded grants will cover only a fraction of what they used to in terms of college costs. We agree that MAP increases have been an essential boost to Illinois, but recognize this is only the beginning in making college more affordable for our low-income students.


"It's time for us to recommit ourselves to the hard work of bringing prosperity and opportunity to all communities in Illinois through a fairer tax system…"

Governor Pritzker identified the need for the Fair Tax Amendment to pass, and the Partnership agrees; new revenues from this source are necessary to develop a budget that adequately invests in our students, and this would raise funds equitably.


In his address, the Governor mentioned the increase in college enrollment in the state: "after years of decline, we are turning around university student enrollment by making college more affordable…"

We agree that this is an important achievement, and that college affordability is paramount for Illinois students. However, thousands of young adults throughout the state still lack access to and/or cannot afford college, particularly at our states four-year institutions. With a continued focus on equity, as well as investing in students and institutions, the state can further increase enrollment at the public colleges and universities serving our state's most financially vulnerable students.


"We passed a bipartisan, truly balanced budget on time, with renewed investments in job creation, cradle to career education, and physical and mental healthcare... Jobs and businesses are coming to this state because we are investing in the things that have always made us great: a skilled workforce, modern infrastructure, great public schools, top research universities…"

After 17 years of harmful disinvestment in Illinois institutions, the incremental additions to higher education appropriations should not be downplayed, as colleges have already seen enrollment gains. However, investing in a higher educational system capable of ensuring that all students have access to the careers of the future will take further commitment from the Governor's Office and legislature over the coming years.

Overall Focus on Education

The Partnership is heartened by the Governor's focus on education in his address, and we agree that improving the B-20 educational system has to be a priority, such that Illinoisans have opportunities to succeed that aren't limited by location, race, or income. This year, we urge Governor Pritzker to commit to policies that will make lasting impacts on equity, such as increasing MAP by $100 million, eliminating state financial aid at for-profit colleges and redirecting those funds to thousands of students not receiving MAP awards, investing in emergency grants to help students complete, and supporting student parents pursuing their college degree by providing information on critical services. We look forward to working with Governor Pritzker and the legislature, and to making progress toward providing more equitable pathways for all students to succeed.

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ILEA Member Spotlight: Meet Asif Wilson, Harold Washington College

1. What is your current role/title?

I currently serve as Associate Dean of Instruction at Harold Washington College. While I support the general instructional operations of our college, I directly support tutoring, dual credit and dual enrollment, first year experience courses, developmental education, and community outreach. I started my career as a middle school social studies and science teacher and moved into pre-service teacher education after five years in the classroom. While the Associate Dean appointment was not necessarily in my career trajectory, I am grateful to be in a position where I can introduce and support racial equity initiatives that, we hope, lead to less harmful conditions for our students.

2. Where did you earn your degree(s)? Types of degree(s) and field(s) of study?

I hold a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago. My research looks at the intersections of race, place, and pedagogy. I am very interested in exploring how race, class, and gender impact schooling, education, curriculum, and instruction. I also hold a M.Ed. in Educational Studies and B.A. in Elementary Education.

3. How did your college/university support your success in earning your degree(s)?

When I was hired as the Dean of Instruction, my colleagues at Harold Washington were instrumental in supporting me through my journey to complete my doctorate. They offered me the support and encouragement I needed to maintain my work responsibilities and write my dissertation. I was also fortunate enough to be supported financially by my institution through their tuition reimbursement program.

4. What excites you about equity work at your institution?

Before he died, Tupac (2009) wrote a poem titled "Roses in the Concrete." The rapper (2009) ends the poem with "long live the rose that grew through the crack in the concrete when no one else even cared" (p. 3). For me, Tupac highlighted two equity-based claims:

On the one hand, that the roses are roses—our students come into our schools with many assets. Tara Yosso (2005) argues that all students bring in a variety of assets, what she calls "community and cultural wealth", into schools that often go under-utilized. In my opinion, part of our work in moving towards more equitable outcomes for students is recognizing, utilizing, and sustaining interactions with students that are rooted in their strengths. From this positionality we view the roses as just that…roses.

Additionally, this positionality may support a shift in our equity analyses away from individualized ones that blame students for their academic failure towards the institutional structures and processes that create the conditions that our students participate in—the concrete. For me, it is imperative that we center our attention on fracturing the concrete conditions in our schools that create barriers and harmful conditions for our students, especially those that have been historically marginalized by our schools.

I am happy to hear that so many institutions are working to better define equity on their campuses and developing initiatives that meet said visions. I am, however, cautious, to congratulate these initiatives as they often-times paint a deficit picture of our students while avoiding interrogation of the structures and processes of our schools that may be creating inequities. I encourage schools attempting to engage their campus communities in creating more equitable outcomes for their students to continue to develop support systems for students but to be more reflective, turning the mirror towards the concrete conditions that our students may not find the cracks in.

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

While I think I've impacted a number of equitable outcomes for our students, I'll highlight two initiatives here.


The first is our Discover course. As chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, where our "college success courses" live, I have led the over-haul of our course offerings. After spending time with our students, I realized that unfortunately, community colleges remain a "second option" for many of them. For a variety of reasons, (counselors, cost of attendance, societal stigma, school evaluations, family, etc.), many students feel as if their attendance at Harold Washington College is secondary, less than, to attending a four-year university. On top of that, our placement test places most of our students into remedial courses. These two experiences/structures may have a negative impact on how our students see themselves and their sense of belonging. I, in collaboration with our wellness center and faculty, set out to create a course for our developmental education students that could cultivate their hope, what Paolo Freire (1970) defines as agency—seeing ourselves as capable—and navigation—navigating complexities when they arise. Discover is a one-credit hour, trauma-informed, healing-centered course that all of our developmental English students currently take.

Data reported by students before Discover (start of semester survey) indicated that Discover students are dealing with a great deal of stress while attending college. This data also suggested that they struggled to navigate the complexities of life and school. Data reported by students at the conclusion of Discover (end of semester survey) indicates that a) the classroom environment was constructed and maintained to support students hope (Freire, 1970); b) Discover supported students' self-recognition of their confidence (agency); c) Discover helped students connect to themselves, their classmates, and the college (personnel and resources); d) Discover helped students better navigate complexities (stress) in and out of school; and e) students hoped for elements of Discover to be included in other classes/areas of the college.

Research shows that when students feel more confident in themselves, feel like they belong, and have a support system in and out of school, they perform better. Discover is creating that sense of confidence, belonging, and collaboration needed to support our students' success while also creating the space for them to name their pain, connect their pain to others to see that they are not alone, and develop tools in their toolbox to move beyond, and start healing, from their pain. It is our hope that Discover no longer exists one day. It is our hope that asset-based, healing-centered praxis of Discover is embedded into every area, (every inch of the concrete) and process of our college.

Collective Care for the Care-Givers

While institutions may be getting better at supporting the holistic needs of our students, in my opinion, we still have not considered the conditions that better support the care givers—those of us charged with supporting our students' success. If our students have pain, we do, too!

Roughly two years ago, I invited faculty, staff, and administrators working with developmental education students to start attending bi-weekly meetings to better understand what asset-based pedagogies were and how they might support our interactions with our students. We called this committee T.E.A.M. (Transitional Education through Affective Methodologies). Approximately 19 people attended each of our meetings. After spending nearly a year together our work took a turn. It was the end of the spring semester and, as we always did, we opened up our meeting with check-ins—a ritual where every individual in the space could share their personal reflections related to how they were feeling physically, intellectually, emotionally, and share any needs they hoped the group could provide. During this particular check-in, almost every T.E.A.M. member shared a story of exhaustion, pain, and burn-out. We knew that we had to turn our gaze away from the students and towards ourselves. We knew that we could not survive under the existing conditions that were burning us all out.

For one year, about twelve of the original 19 members dedicated two-hours every other week, to T.E.A.M. During our time together we focused on three areas related to collective care: breaking bread, engaging in healing practices, and political education. These acts of collective care represent "an extended family, where members are intimately connected and routinely perform acts of compassion on behalf of one another" (Dockray, 2017, para 12).

While these healing-centered collective care efforts were used for our own well-being, they seemed to impact how we interacted with students, supporting this paper's claim that if we care for each other more we will, as a result, have a stronger capacity to care better for our students. At the conclusion of T.E.A.M., one member wrote "Students come to us (as we may come to work) with many life experiences, both positive and negative, that shape their learning and development. T.E.A.M. allowed us to learn about how to support students and provide them a space to name and frame their experiences" (end of semester reflection, May 2019). Here, we see the symbiotic nature of T.E.A.M—both as a space for us to focus on ourselves, but while doing so we were also focusing on our students.
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