Removing Barriers To Success At RVC Through The Workforce Equity Initiative Grant

“The Workforce Equity Initiative (WEI) grant allows community colleges to continue removing barriers to completing a credential for adults of poverty and African Americans from distressed communities,” said RVC President Dr. Howard J. Spearman. “When adults earn credentials that lead to jobs offering higher wages, it not only changes the trajectory of their lives but also the lives of their families; while strengthening the community, growing the workforce, expanding businesses, and creating a more vibrant regional economy.”

Rock Valley College is honored to announce the award of fourth-year funding for the WEI grant from the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB). The current installment of $1,200,000.00 will help RVC continue supporting under-served students working towards career and technical education certificates. 

WEI is a statewide grant program focused on expanding training opportunities for minority students in at-risk communities. WEI participants are provided short-term educational opportunities in the high-demand manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare sectors. The funding allows colleges to remove barriers to student success, which may include free tuition, childcare, transportation, and educational supplies.

“RVC WEI grant has been the saving grace for participating students by removing barriers through the provision of resources to help them achieve certification and employment, thereby becoming productive citizens in the community,” said Joseph Agbeko, Dean of Adult and Developmental Education at RVC.

(Pictured: WEI graduates at the Fall 2022 graduation event)

With support from Governor JB Pritzker, Speaker Pro Tempore Jehan Gordon-Booth, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, and local legislator Rep. Maurice West, funding of WEI allows participating colleges to develop or enhance training and career pathway programs in high-demand employment sectors experiencing workforce gaps. These areas include health care, manufacturing, construction, transportation, information technology, and emergency services.

“The ongoing pandemic has disrupted education and employment opportunities for our hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans, disproportionately affecting African American and other minority communities. Supporting and scaling effective and equitable education and career opportunities is critical for helping these targeted populations for post-pandemic recovery,” said ICCB Executive Director Brian Durham.

The RVC WEI program serves approximately 150 students annually with a focus on improving workforce equity in at-risk communities within the College’s district which consists of all of Boone and Winnebago Counties and portions of Ogle, Stephenson, and Dekalb Counties. The end goal is for participating students to secure full-time employment in a job paying at least 30 percent above the regional living wage.

“This program is tapping into a talented pool of individuals who are too often overlooked,” Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth said. “I’m ecstatic about the positive results we have seen thus far, but more work remains. I am committed to helping residents receive the support and opportunity they deserve to pursue a good-paying career. When programs like this one succeed, all of Illinois benefits.”

The WEI model is proving successful in achieving outstanding enrollment, completion, and employment for African Americans and all participants of poverty, outperforming Illinois and national performance data.

To date, the program has awarded 169 credentials earning WEI graduates an average hourly wage of $21.84.

For more information about the statewide Initiative, visit For local information on WEI at Rock Valley College, visit