NIU president leads regional delegation to White House summit

President Doug Baker and student Jessica Ibares talk about student loan debt with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

A delegation representing the Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network will join President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the Dec. 4 White House College Opportunity Summit in Washington, D.C. The summit will bring together colleges and universities, business leaders, nonprofits and others committed to supporting more college opportunities for students across the country.

The delegation, led by Northern Illinois University President Douglas Baker, includes Elgin Community College President David Sam, Rockford Public Schools District 205 Superintendent Ehren Jarrett and John Rico, co-chair of the Illinois Workforce Investment Board.

“We all have a vested interest in improving the educational attainment of the students in our region,” Baker said. “We’re in this together, and by identifying areas where we can collaborate, we can work together to ensure students are well positioned for success in the college classroom and beyond in new, impactful and innovative ways.”

The summit will focus on building sustainable collaborations in communities with strong K-12 and higher education partnerships to encourage college-going, and supporting colleges to work together to dramatically improve persistence and increase college completion, especially for first generation, low-income and underrepresented students.

The Regional P-20 Network consists of 26 educational institutions in northern Illinois, including NIU and eight regional community college partners, 10 school districts and seven statewide education agencies and advocacy organizations.

“We know when we work together we can be more effective in supporting student success,” said Sam, representing the delegation’s community colleges. “District 509’s Alliance for College Readiness is a perfect example of how K-12 districts, community colleges and four-year schools can partner to support college readiness.”

The P-20 Network is implementing large-scale strategies and tracking systems possible through regional collaboration that will improve college and career readiness for the urban, suburban, and rural students in the diverse northern Illinois region. The leadership of the network’s participating organizations meets regularly to develop actionable strategies for reaching the goal of producing an additional 30,000 college-ready students in the region by 2025.

NIU alumnus Ehren Jarrett
NIU alumnus Ehren Jarrett

“The Rockford Public Schools are honored to be part of the NIU P-20 leadership team heading to the White House College Opportunity Summit,” said Jarrett, leader of one of the 10 participating school districts. “We are committed to the summit’s stated goal of increasing college and career readiness for RPS 205 and regional students.”

Recent studies show a strong correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and median wages in the state, meaning that increasing access to high quality education expands economic opportunity for residents and helps to strengthen the regional economy.

“As a business owner, I believe that the P-20 and workforce are joined at the hip. Businesses depend on the K-12 and higher ed institutions to create the proper programs that offer students the required soft skills, training, degrees and certifications necessary for all students to thrive and prosper in their career development,” said Rico, owner of Chicago-based Rico Enterprises.

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