Women Employed Launches ASPIRE Project to Improve Developmental Education in Illinois

March 1st, 2021

The project is part of a longstanding effort to make college more accessible for adults and equitable for students of color. 

CHICAGO—Women Employed is launching an innovative program to improve developmental (also called remedial) education in Illinois. The Accelerating Student Progress and Increasing Racial Equity (ASPIRE) Project is part of Women Employed’s work to increase equity, access to and success in education, career and technical training so more women, families, and communities can thrive. 

As currently structured, developmental education can be a serious barrier to students’ college completion, contributing to damaging racial achievement gaps in higher education. Each year, up to 60,000 Illinois students—disproportionately low-income and students of color—are placed into remediation before starting college to improve basic academic skills. More than 80 percent will get stuck there and never complete their programs. If those students started college with academic supports, research shows they would be significantly more successful. As a recognized leader on post-secondary educational access and success for low-income individuals, Women Employed is committed to helping reform developmental education in Illinois, to increase 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. 

Through the ASPIRE Project, Women Employed will continue our long-term leadership to improve statewide policy for developmental education, and build on our work with the statewide developmental education task force convened by the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) and the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE). Additionally, we will partner with ten community colleges by providing resources and supports to develop and test innovative strategies to determine college readiness, place more students directly into credit-bearing courses, and support their academic progress.  

“Too many students—especially low-income, Black and Brown students—who have the ability to succeed in higher education are deemed ‘not college ready,’” says Cherita Ellens, President and CEO of Women Employed. “By working with colleges and state agencies to develop strategies to place more of these students directly into college-level, credit-bearing courses, and to provide new instructional supports, we will help more students finish their programs, earn their credentials, and improve their lives.”  

Following the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, an increased number of students are expected to seek training and education through Illinois community colleges, yet those with low basic reading, writing, or math skills will not qualify for the career and technical education (CTE) programs needed to upgrade skills and acquire credentials.shared ECMC Foundation Career Readiness Senior Director, Jennifer Zeisler. “Women Employed is positioned to help colleges eliminate the barriers that keep students out of CTE programs and catalyze statewide, long-term equity improvements across Illinois.”  

This work is generously funded in part by a multi-year grant from ECMC Foundation.  


Since 1973, Women Employed has worked to improve the economic status of women and remove barriers to economic equity by effecting 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, visitwomenemployed.org, or follow @WomenEmployed onFacebook,Twitter, orInstagram. 


Racquel Fullman
[email protected] 

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