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IL Program Aims to Boost College Enrollment for Low-Income Students

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Friday, April 15, 2022   

Students from low-income communities in Illinois have historically faced numerous barriers to higher education, but one Chicago-based program offers support, so they can surmount those hurdles.

The OneGoal initiative is a three-year, nonprofit program which offers students financial and academic guidance through their last two years of high school and first year of college.

Melissa Connelly, the organization's CEO, said the program takes a holistic approach to helping students enroll and stay in college.

"You know, it's about helping students really understand their own aspirations, their identity, the impact they want to have in the world," Connelly outlined. "So that when they get on those postsecondary pathways, they're not wondering why they're there."

A new report from the University of Chicago's Inclusive Economy Lab found participants in the program are 40% more likely to graduate from a postsecondary school than peers in similar demographics.

While the program got its start in Chicago Public Schools, Connelly said it has since rolled out to 26 additional districts across Illinois, and several others across the country.

Kelly Hallberg, scientific director of the Inclusive Economy Lab at the University of Chicago, said the program also has a statistically significant impact on high school graduation rates. The report said more than 99% of OneGoal participants graduate from high school, nearly 16-percentage points higher than their comparison-group peers.

"Having not just a plan, but a realistic plan that students believe that they can implement after high school," Hallberg explained. "That helps you get to college, but it also helps you be engaged in school, see the point of your courses in high school and even get to the high school graduation mark."

The report noted disinvestment in low-income communities has disproportionately affected Black and Latino students. Despite high levels of interest, only about 18% of students in Chicago Public Schools will earn a bachelor's degree within a decade of high school graduation.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


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