We decided we had waited long enough to begin the strategic planning process that would elevate the role and outline the steps for higher education to close equity gaps and bring us closer to a truly thriving Illinois. We launched the strategic planning process in Fall of 2020. While strategic planning was underway, in the Spring of 2021, we were shocked by the killing of women of Asian descent in Atlanta. This added even more urgency to our work.
Now, as we prepared to release A Thriving Illinois, major changes to higher education policy were proposed by President Biden and are being contemplated at the federal level, including two years of free community college; subsidized tuition at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) for families making under $125,000; grants to MSIs to build capacity and to prepare graduate students for careers in health; expanding funding for future teachers, special education teachers, and teachers seeking additional certifications. The president’s proposals also call for universal preschool for three- and four- year-olds and investments in the early childhood workforce.
Each of these proposals, if adopted, would mean fundamental changes to higher education. While the strategic plan could not have anticipated these federal changes, the strategies outlined here are closely aligned with the federal goals and mean Illinois will be well positioned to be a national leader.
The impact of "A Thriving Illinois" will be felt not just in higher education but throughout the state, as students of color, low-income students, and other historically underserved students have access to new opportunities that will enable them—and our state—to thrive.