Illinois Tech Announces Ascend Program, Expanding Access and Opportunity Through Partnership with City Colleges of Chicago

Illinois Institute of Technology’s Ascend Program offers a seamless transition from high school to a bachelor’s degree, complete with mentorship, career coaching, scholarships, and internship opportunities.


Professor Smriti Anand teaches a class

CHICAGO—June 21, 2023—Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech), in a transformative initiative aimed at broadening access to higher education, announces the launch of its Ascend program. This pioneering collaboration with City Colleges of Chicago offers graduating high school seniors a cost-effective and flexible path to pursue their academic journeys. Students begin their college experience at a partner institution, and upon successful completion of the first year, transition seamlessly to full-time study at Illinois Tech to finish their bachelor’s degree.

Traditional community-college transfer pathways have always offered one option for students to advance from community colleges to four-year institutions after earning their associate degrees. The Ascend program is unique in that it enables learners who have applied to Illinois Tech and need additional academic preparedness, or who see affordability as a barrier, to study at one of the seven City Colleges of Chicago while they take part in first-year experiences and access student support at Illinois Tech.

For more than 130 years, improving economic mobility has been woven into the fabric of Illinois Tech’s mission. From its inception, the university has been dedicated to educating first-generation college-goers and expanding representation in technology. This founding purpose resonates in Illinois Tech’s current enrollment profile, with 40 percent of its undergraduate applicants this year being the first in their families to attend a university—a proportion that has remained consistent over the last four years—even as total applications have grown by an impressive 78 percent

Both Illinois Tech and City Colleges of Chicago are committed to increasing access, reducing barriers to higher education, and cultivating a diverse community of learners prepared for success in their chosen fields. This innovative program reflects the shared commitment to these goals.

“Ascend will continue our legacy as an opportunity engine for the 21st century,” says Raj Echambadi, president of Illinois Tech. “At Illinois Tech, we believe in the hopes and dreams of our students no matter where they are in their life’s journey, and we know they can accomplish anything with the right resources, support and inspiring learning experiences.”

Community College students have the propensity to bring in a  skilled, experienced, and a more diverse talent pool into the workforce. “This incredible partnership with Illinois Tech highlights the fact that, together, we are pulling out all the stops for students so they can be fully supported and prepared to reach their education and career goals,” said Chancellor Juan Salgado, City Colleges of Chicago.

The Ascend program offers a comprehensive range of support and benefits to scholars, creating a nurturing and inclusive learning environment. These include:

  • Dedicated Ascend mentors
  • Access to academic and career coaching services
  • Special tuition rate for Illinois Tech courses during Ascend year ($100 per credit hour)
  • Guaranteed annual Illinois Tech scholarship of $25,000 upon successful first-year completion
  • Access to experiential learning opportunities including virtual internships through Illinois Tech’s one-of-a-kind career-readiness program, Elevate
  • Full access to Illinois Tech student facilities and campus life activities
  • Campus housing availability and a U-Pass for commute accessibility

Illinois Tech’s commitment to promoting economic mobility is evident in its impressive achievements. The institution ranks #1 in Illinois and #35 in the nation for high earnings and economic mobility, according to the New York Times. It holds the top position in the state for lifting students from families in the lowest 20 percent of income to the top 20 percent, and is #1 in the Chicago region for occupational earnings power. Illinois Tech is also #4 in the U.S., #1 in the Midwest, and #1 in Illinois for high earnings combined with racial and economic diversity. 

“Our collaboration with City Colleges of Chicago is a tangible demonstration of our commitment to redefining access to a high-quality education. We were born with a noble purpose: to provide  excellent and affordable education to all learners. We have lived by this ethos and continue to measure ourselves by how many people we include rather than how many we exclude. Ascend is one more significant  pathway to provide accessible, affordable STEM education,” says Mallik Sundharam, Illinois Tech’s vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. “Together, we are reshaping who can access the transformative power of an Illinois Tech education, and thereby promoting economic mobility and social impact.”

For more information on the Illinois Tech Ascend program and its eligibility requirements, please visit the Illinois Tech website.

Illinois Institute of Technology

Based in the global metropolis of Chicago, Illinois Tech was born to liberate the power of collective difference to advance technology and progress for all. It is the only tech-focused university in the city, and it stands at the crossroads of exploration and invention, advancing the future of Chicago and the world. It offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, computing, architecture, business, design, science and human sciences, and law. Illinois Tech students are guaranteed hands-on experiences, personalized mentorship, and job readiness through the university’s one-of-a-kind Elevate program. Its graduates lead the state and much of the nation in economic prosperity. Its faculty and alumni built the Chicago skyline. And every day in the living lab of the city, Illinois Tech fuels breakthroughs that change lives. Visit

City Colleges of Chicago has been fueling economic opportunity across Chicago’s neighborhoods since 1911. Committed to providing a high-quality education at an unprecedented value, City Colleges aims to be the city’s prime higher education engine for socioeconomic mobility and racial equity. Its graduates are found throughout the city—in hospitals, boardrooms, manufacturing plants, and classrooms—making a difference and driving the city’s growth. City Colleges encompasses seven independently accredited colleges and five satellite sites across Chicago, serving more than 60,000 students with a wide range of educational programs. From tuition-free ESL and high school diploma preparation classes to certificate and associate degree programs, City Colleges ensures every student’s access to quality education and success. Its diverse students, reflecting the rich tapestry of the city, embark on pathways that lead to gainful employment in high-demand sectors or transition to esteemed four-year colleges and universities. Visit

Media contacts

Petra Kelly
Communications Director
Illinois Institute of Technology
Cell: 773.771.1064 

Veronica Resa​
District Director of Media Relations
City Colleges of Chicago​