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A Data-Informed Approach to Advancing Equity
California State University–Northridge (CSUN) is located in the heart of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, and its student population reflects the diversity of the region it serves. In only ten years, our population of Latina/o undergraduates increased from 30 percent in fall 2006 to 49 percent in fall 2016. During the same period, students receiving Federal Pell Grants became the majority of our undergraduates—growing from 36 percent of the population to more than half (53 percent).
CSUN prides itself on its long tradition of access and is committed to improving equity in success rates among our students. The six-year graduation rate for the cohort of first-time freshmen entering in 2009 was 50 percent, with variation among racial, ethnic, and income groups. We are dedicated to raising the overall graduation rate, as well as closing the gaps in graduation rates between students from better-served and underserved backgrounds.
Our campus joined the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)’s Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success project with a number of objectives that aligned with the university mission, the Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project goals, and the California State University System’s graduation initiative.
Developing Our Campus Action Plan
Our campus action plan was developed by a select committee that included eight members from administrative and faculty roles within academic affairs and student affairs.
Armed with a draft statement developed at the October 2015 AAC&U Equity Academy, project members met monthly over the next six months to discuss what kinds of changes the campus most needed and which of those would have the greatest impact on equity and inclusiveness. The committee worked to identify relevant data, integrate its efforts with the work of the university’s Student Retention and Graduation Committee, broaden the scope of campus involvement, and share information with the campus community once the plan was finalized in May 2016.
Implementing Our Campus Action Plan
Our campus action plan is characterized by a data-informed and collaborative approach. We began implementing the objectives and targeted intervention strategies, in part with the help of a newly established institutional structure—the Office of Student Success Innovations (OSSI). A product of the collaboration between the academic affairs and student affairs offices, OSSI opened its doors on June 1, 2016. Its mission is to close the opportunity gap among our students by engaging and empowering faculty, staff, and students to work collaboratively to develop innovations that expand educational equity and student success. The OSSI director, a twelve-month faculty member, joined the Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project team in fall 2016.
Beginning in summer 2016, we set out to share information with and engage the campus community in several ways, including (1) the provost’s annual Planning and Professional Development Series, (2) a new monthly town hall series on the current higher education environment, and (3) a new monthly email campaign to the campus from the Office of Institutional Research (IR). At the same time, we took steps to meet the four Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project goals. For example, to help our students learn about their possible pathways to degree, our Office of Academic First-Year Experiences is working with a group of stakeholders from across campus to launch a campaign to help students become aware of an online tool that will help them plan their degree route, as well as the resources available through academic affairs and student affairs.
To improve equity in rates of course completion, we used institutional data to identify a high priority course list for each college, consisting of the lower-division courses offered by each college that have large enrollments, high rates of non-passing grades, and large gaps in course GPAs between traditionally underserved and better-served students. Programming for faculty was developed in collaboration with OSSI, the Offices of Institutional Research and Faculty Development, the chief diversity officer, and the Faculty Technology Center. Workshop series, retreats, institutes, and faculty learning communities began in fall 2016, and many will run through spring 2018.
These programs involve bringing faculty together in interdisciplinary communities and providing them with course- and section-level data on gaps in rates of non-passing grades between students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Next, faculty are invited to consider principles of equity-mindedness. Then faculty are provided with evidence-based strategies to close gaps and increase student success that can be used in their classes, such as learning-centered syllabus design, transparent assignments and grading, growth mindset, high-impact practices, and metacognitive interventions. Finally, faculty are supported as they consider engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning to assess and disseminate the results of their efforts.
In addition, IR and OSSI developed a program aimed at supporting faculty and staff in making data-informed decisions. The 2016–17 Data Champions program funded thirty-seven faculty and staff members from across campus to get in-depth training on institutional data tools, to use institutional data to investigate a student success-related question, and to “champion” the data by sharing the results and tools with faculty in their colleges. The program has been incredibly effective at empowering faculty to identify student success issues themselves and come up with their own solutions to address them.
Our objective is to expand undergraduate research experiences and to better assess the impact on student success. In fall 2016, the provost established an undergraduate research working group aimed at exploring options for expanding the institutional capacity for undergraduate research. In addition, a faculty member is using institutional data to document and assess the impact of grant-funded training programs on student success. The Office of Institutional Research will use these results, along with CSUN data, to better understand the impact of engagement in undergraduate research on student outcomes for various groups.
Student Achievement of Learning Outcomes
The campus established a writing proficiency exam as a graduation requirement. The university assessment coordinator realized that this test (usually taken by students in the junior year after the completion of general education courses) could be used to evaluate student proficiency in critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and information competence in addition to written communication, which the test already evaluated. As such, he revised the prompt to test students on the three additional competencies, which will give us an important benchmark to analyze the core of our curriculum and its ability to incorporate the LEAP principles.
Assessing Our Campus Action Plan
We do not expect to change campus culture overnight, but we hope that by engaging campus stakeholders in all areas and levels, we will see many small changes that should result in transformation at the institutional level. In particular, we will assess our progress by examining opportunity gaps in the high-priority courses we have identified, as well as in one-year continuation and graduation rates. Once we have made more headway in assessing gaps in student achievement of learning outcomes, we will also examine progress in narrowing those divides.
Kristy Michaud, Director, Office of Student Success Innovations; Linda Bowen, Chair, Department of Journalism; Janet Oh, Director, Institutional Research; and Elizabeth Adams, Associate Vice President of Student Success, all of California State University–Northridge