Illinois Tech to Expand Access to Higher Education Through Ascend Program


Professor Smriti Anand teaches a class

Through a transformative initiative aimed at broadening access to higher education, Illinois Institute of Technology is launch the 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.

Community college transfer pathways have traditionally offered one option for students to advance from community colleges to four-year institutions after earning an 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 78 percent

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

“Ascend will continue our legacy as an opportunity engine for the twenty-first century,” Illinois Tech President Raj Echambadi says. “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,” City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado says.

The Ascend program offers a comprehensive range of support and benefits to scholars, in hopes of 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 the 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.

“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.”