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IBHE strives for more equity at Illinois colleges as pandemic continues

A student walks across campus at Malcom X College, Thursday, April 1, 2010, in Chicago. Community colleges are grappling with ever-changing plans for reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

(The Center Square) – The chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education said Tuesday the COVID-19 pandemic could steer some away from further educational opportunities after high school.

In his opening remarks at the board’s meeting Tuesday, John Atkinson said adult learners, and low-income and rural students may not pursue post-secondary education because of the pandemic.

“Like so many of our fellow Americans, they have been severely displaced by the pandemic,” he said. “They have lost jobs, they have seen their incomes plummet, and many have lost hope.”

Atkinson said what the fall semester will look like at Illinois colleges and universities is ever-changing.

“Things are very fluid. There are a lot of uncertainties because the numbers keep changing every day,” he said. “Ultimately, we will be guided by the science and the safety.”

Early in the pandemic, the Illinois Board of Higher Education helped lead an effort to set up the public university and community college students’ COVID-19 emergency fund. It was designed to help students who were facing challenges such as not having a computer, housing issues and food insecurity. As of April 30, the fund had received close to $600,000 in donations.

The board also said it is continuing its goal of equity in higher education around the state. Atkinson said there are alarming statistics showing public college graduation rates for students of color at just half the rate for whites.

“This reflection also highlights the mission that this board has been charged with over a year ago,” Atkinson said. “Our focus on equity continues and informs everything that we do.”

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