Heartland joins ICC to celebrate Workforce Equity Initiative

In December 2021, the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) announced Workforce Equity Initiative (WEI) funding and the award of $18.7 million to 18 participating community colleges throughout Illinois including Heartland Community College.

With the award, Heartland joined Illinois Central College (ICC) in a group of 33 institutions receiving first time or continuing funding.

The Initiative focuses on improving workforce inclusively by providing a credential and above living-wage job for adults of poverty residing in disproportionately impacted areas (low income, low employment, high crime). African American participants represent a minimum of 60 percent of the population served by the grant due to their underrepresentation in high-demand, high-wage careers. The end goal is for participating adults to secure full-time employment in a job paying at least 30 percent above the regional living wage.

With support from Governor JB Pritzker, Speaker Pro Tempore Jehan Gordon-Booth, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, and local legislators, funding of WEI allows participating colleges to credential adults in high-demand employment sectors experiencing workforce gaps including healthcare, manufacturing, construction, transportation, information technology, and emergency services.

Statewide this program has served over 6,500 residents producing over 6,100 credentials with a 62% completion rate and a 70% employment rate, more than doubling the national average completion rate for African American individuals.

“The last few years have brought education and employment challenges for our hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans, disproportionately affecting African American and other minority communities. Through WEI, participating community colleges have supported and scaled effective educational and career opportunities to help these targeted populations, enabling them to gain the necessary skills and credentials to earn above a living wage, a task that has always been a critical role for community colleges,” said Illinois Community College Board Executive Director Brian Durham.

“This program is tapping into a talented pool of individuals who are too often overlooked,” Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth said. “I’m ecstatic about the positive results we have seen thus far, but more work remains. I am committed to helping residents receive the support and opportunity they deserve to pursue a good-paying career. When programs like this one succeed, all of Illinois benefits.”

“The WEI grant allows community colleges to continue removing barriers to completing a credential for adults of poverty and African Americans from distressed communities,” said ICC President Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey. “When adults earn credentials with labor market value, it not only changes the trajectory of their lives, but also the lives of their families; while strengthening the community, growing the workforce, expanding businesses and creating a more vibrant regional economy.”

The WEI model is proving to be a successful methodology for achieving outstanding enrollment, completion, and employment for African Americans and all participants of poverty outperforming Illinois and national performance data.

Comparative Outcomes: Nationally, of students who start college at a community college, 41% of students have earned a postsecondary credential in 6 years. The comparable rate for African Americans is 29% (AACC, July 2020). WEI students have a 62% completion rate (33 points higher) and more than twice the national average, which was achieved in a one year or less.

“Community colleges play a vital role in the economic health of our region,” said Heartland Community College President Dr. Keith Cornille. “Offering the targeted support funded by the WEI grant, institutions such as Heartland and ICC connect individuals with the kind of educational opportunity that leads to a good job, and eventually a career. By engaging with our community partners and local industry, we are not only working to close educational attainment gaps but also helping provide a vital pipeline to the workforce.”

In FY2020, WEI was successfully administered by the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) and led by Illinois Central College with 15 participating colleges. This year WEI colleges expanded to 18 additional institutions including Heartland Community College.

For more information about the statewide Initiative, visit illinoiswei.org.

Written by: Steve Fast for Heartland Community College