ILEA Newsletter – Letter From Our Managing Director

Dear ILEA Partners,

Welcome back to school for a fall semester unlike any other. We have seen your teams up close as they have done whatever it takes to make plans for students to continue high-quality learning, provide new supports for students, and enable them to form social bonds and foster a connection with your colleges – and to do all of this safely both on and off campus. It is a Herculean task and the amount of creativity, innovation, and hard work are evident to all of us. We've also seen quick shifts to alter plans as the semester began and the virus affected students, faculty and staff. We are now beginning to see early reports about the upcoming spring semester, which look to be a continuation of current approaches.

The pandemic has continued to impact lives on and off campus, and has generally contributed to declines in enrollment across the state that cause concern about student access and institutional stability. This summer, campuses saw a significant decrease in enrollments, raising equity concerns, particularly among Black students, rural students, and at community colleges. Early data for the fall suggests that enrollments are down nationally, and among ILEA partners from between 5% and upwards of 20%. However, there are exceptions that give us hope. Northern Illinois University had a 1% increase in total enrollment for fall 2020 over the prior year, driven by an 8% increase in the size of the freshmen class and a 6% improvement in retention of first-year students. The Illinois Board of Higher Education's (IBHE) Stay the Course campaign and the website launched by the PCC this summer, Illinois Colleges Forward, aim to encourage students, parents, and the counselors who advise them that students should continue to pursue their college goals in Illinois whenever possible, even during this extremely challenging year.

Now, more than ever, your ILEA Equity Plans are powerful tools to help address student persistence, completion, and the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on our communities. They provide a roadmap to greater equity in opportunity within your institutions and seek to shine a light on how we can remove unnecessary barriers for students, as well as provide critical supports to those who need them, when they need them. The publishing of 21 institutional equity plans last month represents a significant and deliberate step toward equity in higher education in the state of Illinois, and we congratulate your important step forward. These plans detail approaches to onboarding first-year students, reforming developmental education, diversifying faculty, using data to target interventions, and much more. In the coming months and at the 2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit, we look forward to sharing more with you about the strategies within these plans and how we can make connections among ILEA institutions to support implementation and a process of continuous, collective learning and improvement.

PCC was also pleased to announce Catalyst Grants in the amount of $12,000 for all ILEA colleges and universities publishing their Equity Plans this year, as the result of a grant from a local foundation. Please read below and also look for an email from your ILEA Equity Program Manager this week for more information on how to access the Catalyst Grant. We look forward to continuing to identify opportunities for greater philanthropic investment in your equity work.

In the months that remain of 2020, we look forward to seeing you virtually at a number of upcoming events, including at the 2020 ILEA Virtual Fall Summit, which is dedicated to the critical role of faculty in eliminating equity disparities on campus. We have spent a significant amount of time adapting the schedule and session approaches to be conducive to a virtual event, and we look forward to sharing that with all of you. Because we are not bound by physical limitations presented by an in-person event, we encourage you to invite at least 25 faculty and department chairs from your institutions to join us for these sessions. We also hope to see many of you at our ongoing Equity Webinar series and at additional workshops that will be announced in the coming weeks.

We know the demands on your time will continue to be substantial, and we recognize all you do to ensure your students are safe and supported. I hope that despite all of the challenges with which you are faced in this moment, you can enjoy some of the beauty that the fall season offers -- at a safe distance and with a mask, of course.

In partnership for equity,

Lisa Castillo Richmond

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