ASPIRE: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Headed

Women Employed
ASPIRE Speaker Series
3 min readFeb 23, 2023

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Through phase I of the Accelerating Student Progress and Increasing Racial Equity (ASPIRE) project we learned a lot about where colleges are at in terms of developmental education reform, where they are headed, and what supports they need to get there. As phase II begins, we are excited to offer the colleges we are working with more robust supports and are looking forward to kicking off phase II of the project with a speaker series on racial equity and inclusion (REI) in higher education.

As a refresher, the creation of the ASPIRE project was in response to the Developmental Education Reform Act (DERA) which aims to address inequities in college completion among students of color and first-generation students. Passed in March 2021, the act requires public colleges in Illinois to reform their developmental education (dev ed) programs — the introductory math and English classes students may need to improve their skills, before they can take a college-level math or English class — so that students can enter a credit-bearing, college-level math or English course by their second semester.

Improving skills so that students succeed in their college-level courses is a good thing. However, for the students who need to improve those skills, the path to college-level courses can be a very discouraging and financially depleting one. Prior to DERA, dev-ed students, predominantly Black, Latinx, and first-gen students, would get caught in what some call “the swirl” of dev-ed courses. Once in “the swirl” it could take students a couple years to work their way to a college-level math or English course, and by that time they may have spent a good chunk of their available finances and time getting to that point, but not feel much closer at all to their academic goals.

The winding road to completing dev-ed courses is one of the predominant reasons that Black, Latinx, first-gen, and low-income students don’t complete their degrees. Additionally, many students who attend community colleges are non-traditional, meaning that they are often adult learners, more likely to be working full-time jobs, and may be single parents or care-takers. Those additional responsibilities on the student only add to the issues of inequity, causing many dev-ed students to fall behind. For these reasons, requiring colleges to provide students the support they need in order to enter a college-level course by semester two is a necessary, albeit challenging, change.

To help colleges with their reforms, in phase I of ASPIRE the project provided technical assistance, connection to resources, and consultancy support to ten colleges as they planned to implement their reforms. In the spring of 2022, Illinois colleges detailed their plans for reform in response to a state questionnaire. One of the state’s questions posed to public colleges was how their reforms are expected to improve educational outcomes for Black students. In resulting conversations with our cohort, there is a clear desire for more guidance around supporting REI measures in their classrooms and on their campuses, measures that go beyond the technical reforms as required by the law. In addition to these conversations, HB5464 was passed in the spring of 2022 which will require public colleges in Illinois to create campus equity plans.

As we planned for phase II of the ASPIRE project we kept these conversations and upcoming state requests top of mind and decided to organize a speaker series on Racial Equity and Inclusion in Higher Education. This speaker series will welcome an array of experts in REI work in higher ed and touch on subjects that range in scale from creating inclusive classrooms and curricula for faculty, to creating more holistic supports on a systems and campus level for administrators.

Stay tuned to learn more about Angell Howard who will be our first speaker. Angell is the Associate Director of Professional Development and Staff Recognition at Illinois State University as well as the owner of Necessary Change Consulting LLC.

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Women Employed
ASPIRE Speaker Series

WE relentlessly pursue equity for women in the workforce by effecting policy change, expanding access to education, & advocating for fair, inclusive workplaces.