Students of all races, economic backgrounds, and geographic locations deserve access to high-quality postsecondary education that is aligned with their educational and career aspirations.

In Illinois, access to higher education is stratified by race and income. Selective colleges and universities, which have more resources (and higher completion rates, transfer rates, and post-graduation incomes) are often unrepresentative of low-income students and students of color. Meanwhile, students of color and rural students are overrepresented in for-profit colleges, which have the highest costs, leaving students with mountains of debt (and a degree that might not help them pay it off).

Equitable access to higher education extends beyond getting into college, as even within institutions students often have different opportunities depending on race and income, which are evident in graduation rate disparities at many colleges. It’s also shown in how Black, Latinx, and low-income students are disproportionately placed into non-credit-bearing traditional developmental education courses which act as barriers to college-level coursework, delaying time to degree and in many cases, ending a student’s college career altogether.

The first step in restoring higher education’s potential for socioeconomic mobility is to eliminate disparities in access to a college education for the state’s low-income students and students of color.

Recommendations to make Illinois higher education more accessible

Making college more affordable will improve equitable college access. However, to provide more low-income students, first generation college students, and students of color real access to a postsecondary education, institutions must implement more inclusive admissions and transfer processes and scale effective models of developmental education – which currently act as a barrier to access to college-level coursework for many of Illinois’ underrepresented student groups.

Additionally, Illinois’ higher education funding systems must be revamped to incentivize institutions to serve a student body that reflects the state’s demographics and adequately funding institutions currently serving Illinois’ low-income students and underrepresented student groups. This approach will also help ensure that opportunities and positive student outcomes are not dependent on which public college or university a student attends.

Strategies to improve equity in college access

  1. Implement More Equitable College Admissions Processes
  2. Scale Effective Developmental Education Reforms
  3. Advance Equitable Institutional Funding
  4. Improve Equity in Transfer Systems
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