Women Employed Extends ASPIRE Project to Help More Illinois Students Succeed in Higher Education

August 23rd, 2023

Chicago – Women Employed, which has been creating fundamental, systemic change for working women for 50 years, today announced the extension of its innovative program to improve developmental education in Illinois through a multiyear grant from the ECMC Foundation.  

Women Employed created the Accelerating Student Progress and Increasing Racial Equity (ASPIRE) Project to increase equity, access to and success in education, career and technical training so more women, families, and communities can thrive. Launched in March 2021 as a collaboration between Women Employed and 10 Illinois community colleges, the ASPIRE Project is part of Women Employed’s long-standing effort to make college more accessible for adults and equitable for students of color. 

“We’re thrilled to continue the incredible work we’ve been doing to help students, especially low-income Black and Brown students, succeed in higher education,” Cherita Ellens, President and CEO of Women Employed, said. “The ASPIRE Project is designed to improve the lives of thousands of Illinois students who may not have been given a chance to succeed in college without this program. We thank ECMC Foundation for their unwavering support of this critical initiative.” 

Developmental education, also known as remedial education, can be a major barrier to students’ college completion, contributing to racial achievement gaps in higher education. When the Project launched in 2021, up to 60,000 Illinois students—mainly low-income students and students of color—were placed into remediation before starting college to improve basic academic skills. More than 80 percent of those students never completed their programs. Research shows if these students started college with enhanced academic supports, they would be significantly more successful. The ASPIRE Project supports colleges in designing those new approaches.

In its first two years, Women Employed worked statewide with community colleges and state agencies to develop strategies to place students directly into college-level, credit-bearing courses, and to provide new instructional support to accelerate students’ progress so they can finish their programs, earn their credentials, and improve their lives. Through the ASPIRE Project, Women Employed works to ensure an effective statewide policy framework and partners with campuses throughout the academic year to advance each institution’s goals to reform developmental education. The intention of the ASPIRE Project is not to advance a single developmental education model, but rather to support locally defined efforts on each campus that lead to student acceleration and progress while closing racial equity gaps for Black and Latina/o/x students. The project conducts this through three key supports: an annual convening, cross-campus learning, and one-on-one coaching/technical assistance. In addition, Illinois House Bill 5464 in June 2022 now requires state public universities and community colleges to develop equity plans. 

“Women Employed is committed to helping reform developmental education in Illinois and increasing the number of students from underserved backgrounds who can pursue career and technical education and graduate with a credential that has value in the workforce,” Rosario Torres, ECMC Foundation Program Officer , said. “Because of the ASPIRE Project and Women Employed’s dedication, more Illinois students will reach their full potential and career goals, improving long-term equity across the state.” 

With the extension of the ASPIRE Project, Women Employed will continue to improve policy for developmental education, and to partner with community colleges to provide resources to develop and test innovative strategies that determine college readiness, place more students directly into credit-bearing courses, and support their academic progress. Women Employed also plans to develop a Racial Equity Academy to begin in early 2024 and will host an ASPIRE Developmental Education Symposium in Spring 2025.

More information on the ASPIRE Project can be found here


About Women Employed

Since 1973, Women Employed has worked to improve the economic status of women and remove barriers to economic equity by affecting policy change, expanding access to educational opportunities, and advocating for fair and inclusive workplaces so that all women, families, and communities can thrive. For more information, visit womenemployed.org or follow @WomenEmployed on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram

Together, we will ensure more women, families, and communities can build their economic power and thrive.

All new or increased gifts will be matched by an anonymous donor!