Grant to Help Send Low-Income Youth to College

Scholarships awarded as part of the Illinois Steps AHEAD program

The Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) today announced that it has awarded college scholarships to 55 low-income students. A total of $437,525 has been made available through the Illinois Steps for Attaining Higher Education through Academic Development (AHEAD) program.

"The goal of Illinois Steps AHEAD is to increase the number of low-income students who attend and succeed in college," said DHS Acting Secretary Grace Hong Duffin. "We've been working with students to improve their high school performance. Now we're taking it to the next level with the college scholarships."

Illinois Steps AHEAD is a six-year program funded by the GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) initiative of the U.S. Department of Education. This initiative has been implemented across the state in 21 community-based agencies since 2006. Illinois Steps AHEAD is administered by DHS and evaluated by the Center for Prevention Research and Development, a unit of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

Program components include early intervention educational services, creative and engaging academic support for students, career exploration programs, college preparation services, scholarships, increased parent involvement, and increased collaboration with local schools. The program works with students and their families in middle and high school to improve achievement, build study skills, assist in course selection, and increase their knowledge of admission requirements for college education.

This is just the first year of Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship funding; additional scholarships will be awarded to students over the next several years, as more of the programs students graduate from high school. Individual awards ranged from $700 to $9,200 based on a student's participation in the program and their cost of attendance at an institution of higher learning. The average award for each youth was $5,758.

Illinois Steps AHEAD has served an average of 1,500 youth per year, in 7th through 12th grades, for the past four years. The partnering community-based agencies are located in Chicago (10 sites), medium-sized cities (Decatur, East St. Louis, Freeport, Rockford, Springfield), Chicago suburbs (Aurora, Waukegan, Harvey), and rural locales (Cairo, Hopkins Park, Morris).

Academic support services are fundamental to the Illinois Steps AHEAD program: 87 percent of youth say they complete their homework more often since attending the program. The college preparation component of Illinois Steps AHEAD provides youth with numerous opportunities to learn about college admission requirements, financial aid, how to apply for college, and what the college experience will entail. More than 90 percent of youth say they are more interested in attending college since attending Illinois Steps AHEAD, and 86 percent of youth feel more prepared to attend college.