Waukegan to College awarded $315,000 grant to expand

Getting into college and staying in school is often a heavy lift for students. The path to college is challenging, and the goal is often out of reach, with many educational, social, and economic factors at play.

The Federal 2023 Omnibus Funding Bill, recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden, may change that scenario. Thanks to the advocacy of Congressman Brad Schneider (IL-10), the bill allocates $315,000 to Waukegan to College to enhance the education and growth of Waukegan students, lifting them up toward brighter futures.

Waukegan to College is a local nonprofit devoted to helping Waukegan students realize their potential and defy higher education barriers. The new funding will allow the organization to expand its multifaceted educational support programs and roll out a new initiative targeting middle school students.

At Waukegan to College, programs for students already start as early as fifth grade and involve a family-based, wraparound model of support. The programs include individual tutoring and mentoring, SAT/ACT prep, college advising and application assistance, student and family workshops, field trips and site visits, financial aid application assistance, and more.

The new funding will support a collaborative program led by Waukegan to College in cooperation with Waukegan's five public middle schools and school district leadership. The program will start with a pilot project at one middle school. The project is intended to supercharge Waukegan to College's activities for students at that school. The easily replicated model will then be rolled out incrementally to the four other middle schools, pending funding.

"Most college readiness and access programs focus on identifying high-performing students," Director of Development and Community Engagement Liz Fales said.

"At Waukegan to College, we believe that the most equitable way we can help students overcome obstacles to higher education is to provide an environment in which they can demonstrate and develop their potential.

"The most logical place for that to happen is in middle school," Fales said. "We want to identify students who are slipping through the cracks of a system that is singularly focused on past performance. We proposed a phased, collaborative approach in partnership with the school district to provide cutting-edge resources, advanced tools, and customized support that is not available in any other capacity in Waukegan without cost."

Currently, Waukegan to College serves 67 middle school students. At the beginning, the project will provide high-level exposure, support and interaction for every student at each grade level at the pilot middle school, increasing middle school participation by at least 25 percent. Over time, the organization expects to reach between 650 and 750 students each year.

The funding for Waukegan to College was the result of a selective community project funding initiative led by Rep. Schneider, who submitted 15 local projects for funding, all of which were approved in the final bill.

"Nothing is more rewarding or inspiring than seeing our young people aspire to new heights," Schneider said. "Since 2009, Waukegan to College has changed the lives of hundreds of first-generation college students, their families and the whole Waukegan community. Funding their success is one of my proudest achievements during my time in Congress."

"Waukegan to College is a wonderful resource for our students and their families as they begin to think about college," John R. Lewis Middle School Principal Molly Schaefer said.

"Having an organization like this within our community is invaluable. The educational support for the students, teaching the parents about the whole process, building leadership skills, and just encouraging everyone to be brave on this journey to college are appreciated by families and the entire school community."

Since its start 14 years ago, Waukegan to College has grown to serve over 400 students in total and is supporting 210 students today. To date, there have been 78 Waukegan to College program alumni who have graduated from colleges across the country.

This year, the organization will launch its 1,000 Dreams initiative, a push to assist 1,000 students advance toward a college education by 2029. The funding will help ensure the success of that initiative.

For more information about Waukegan to College programs, contact Pricilla Uriostegui at or (224) 628-3067.

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