A New 2-Year College in Chicago

A Chicago-based nonprofit is opening a private two-year institution aimed at Latino immigrants.

July 19, 2018

A new private two-year college will open its doors on the west side of Chicago this fall with the goal of preparing Latino students for middle-income positions.

Founded by the Instituto del Progreso Latino, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to helping Latino immigrants further their education, Instituto College will welcome its first class of about 24 students into a pilot nursing program. The college builds on the organization’s already existing “bridge” programs, such as Carreras en Salud (Careers in Health), which provides students with the necessary education to fill health-care positions including certified nursing assistant or registered nurse.

“We recognize that we do a really good job creating pathways in the nursing arena, but our students haven’t risen on the career ladder to R.N. [registered nurse],” said Karina Ayala-Bermejo, president and CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino. To do so, students will need to prepare for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, which requires an associate degree in nursing.

Eventually, Instituto College hopes to train students in five additional subject areas: health-care leadership, production and operations, manufacturing management, networking technology, and organizational leadership.

Instituto College will not be part of the City Colleges of Chicago, which has seven campuses in the city, some of which offer similar programs (at low tuition rates) to those that will be available at Instituto.

When asked whether the creation of the new college will strain the relationship between City Colleges and Instituto del Progreso Latino, everyone was quick to say that the arrangement will be beneficial for all.

"At City Colleges, we embrace the important role community organizations play in connecting talent to economic opportunity," Juan Salgado, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago, said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. Before he was appointed chancellor in 2017, Salgado held Ayala-Bermejo's current role of CEO and president of Instituto del Progreso Latino and was involved in early brainstorming about the new college.

Initial operating costs will be covered with a $500,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase. The money will also pay faculty salaries and tuition for the first class of students, which will likely cost about $12,000 per year, or $285 per credit.

“We’re going to make the $500,000 investment from JPMorgan Chase last as long as it can, but also leverage other corporations to do the same,” Ayala-Bermejo said.

The grant is part of JPMorgan Chase’s three-year plan to invest $40 million into the south and west sides of Chicago. The company has partnered with Instituto del Progreso Latino for years and is confident in its ability to graduate students from Instituto College.

“When an institution comes to you with the bold idea of starting a college, you want to know that they can pull it off,” said Whitney Smith, head of Midwest philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase. “We’ve had a long partnership with the organization for nearly a decade … They have a strong track record for outcomes.”

The grant will carry the college to its next looming hurdle: accreditation. The college has already been approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education to offer degrees, but to become accredited, Instituto College will need to show success.

“They need to show impact with this first graduating class,” said Deborah Santiago, chief operating officer and vice president for policy at Excelencia in Education. “They need to show at the end of the two years that their students are graduating, that they’re getting a degree. They also need to show that faculty are knowledgeable.”

Accreditation will allow students to be eligible for federal financial aid and Pell Grants, which are both crucial to the low-income immigrant population that Instituto serves. However, undocumented students may shy away from filing federal financial aid paperwork in fear of tipping off immigration services.

“We understand that some students may be wary of applying for Pell Grants or may not be eligible,” Ayala-Bermejo said. “To meet those students’ needs, Instituto will seek funds or scholarships that would give undocumented students the financial support they need to enroll.”

Currently, Illinois law states that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients can obtain professional licensure, including R.N., but a new bill offers an amendment to that law that would allow all undocumented immigrants the chance to obtain licensure regardless of citizenship status. The bill passed the Illinois House and Senate and was sent to the governor for approval in late June.​

According to Santiago, traditional community colleges have had difficulty reaching Latino populations because they lack the necessary resources to support those students. City Colleges in particular has had difficulty graduating Latino students; Latinos had a 22 percent graduation rate in 2015. The system has also been accused of fudging graduation numbers, which led to a vote of no confidence for former chancellor Cheryl Hyman and Salgado's eventual hire. Hyman and City Colleges have disputed this, insisting that each student was only counted once in federal graduation numbers.

"City Colleges has limited resources to provide the extra support for [Latino students] to be successful," Santiago said. "You could still enroll with the ability to benefit, but your likelihood of persisting and completing if you don’t have academic and social support is low."

She also noted that institutions that struggle with Latino enrollment do so in part because they haven't established a connection with Latino communities.

"These are not easy communities to reach out to, because they historically have not been engaged in the higher education process," Santiago said. "An institution starting from scratch has to figure out how to tap in to the adult population.”

Davis Jenkins, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, points to Instituto's additional academic and financial services as the key to their success.

"I’ve worked with Instituto long enough to believe that they will have high graduation rates because they provide strong wraparound support; they're good at contextualizing content for their population and have strong relationships with employers," Jenkins said. "Of course it’s going to be a challenge for them to get accreditation, to offer Pell Grants. If they can’t do that, I don’t think this will come to fruition."

Santiago agrees.

“They’re combining language acquisition with technical skills,” Santiago said. “We know that can work really well. Too many think, ‘we’ll handle the language first and then the content knowledge.’”

For colleges looking to enroll and graduate more Latino students, she encourages institutions to know their audience.

“Know who you serve,” she said. “You can’t think that you can translate your website and see a boom in Latinos who enroll. That’s not going to do it.”


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