The Principal’s Scholars Program (PSP) is a statewide, pre-collegiate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiative that strives to prepare elementary, middle, and high school students with demonstrated potential for college preparatory pathways that will lead to boundless global innovations and opportunities. PSP accomplishes its mission by implementing a transformative learning strategy composed of three integrated learning processes: deeper learning, focused learning, and borderless learning.


In 1975, two University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign educators expressed concern that urban high school students were not academically prepared to enroll and succeed at highly selective institutions. Walter Washington, Assistant Director of Admissions, and Paul Parker, Assistant Dean of the College of Engineering, collaborated with Silas Purnell, community activist, to design and establish PSP in Chicago.

PSP began in seven high schools: Bowen, Calumet, Corliss, Fenger, Harlan, Julian, and Phillips. For 10 years, the founders and their team of university faculty and staff as well as high school counselors and teachers operated the program on a volunteer basis. Program activities consisted of college access workshops, career exploration initiatives, and related field excursions after school and on Saturdays.

Subsequent program success led to a 40% increase in standardized test scores and a 50% increase in college acceptance rates. The program expanded to include 28 elementary and middle schools and 38 high schools in nine metropolitan communities throughout Illinois. In 1986, this success prompted the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to incorporate PSP as an official academic program under the auspices of the Office of the Provost. PSP also received a proclamation from the governor’s office for providing exceptional leadership to students around the state of Illinois for the past four decades.

Target Communities

PSP serves the following targeted communities within the state of Illinois:

  • Champaign
  • Chicago
  • Danville
  • Decatur
  • East St. Louis
  • Rantoul
  • Springfield
  • Urbana
  • Waukegan


Following are some highlights and accomplishments of PSP over the years:

  • PSP is a statewide University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign initiative. It’s one of the largest single-institution pre-college programs in the United States.
  • PSP has provided college readiness resources to more than 80,000 disadvantaged elementary, middle, and high school students and their parents and teachers since its inception.
  • The PSP college enrollment rate is over 90%.
  • PSP is a winner of the Anderson Medal for successful collegiate and business partnerships.