AAC&U News, April 2018
Perspectives

Why We Must Lead with a Vision for Equity

In 2015, AAC&U launched a multiyear institutional change effort designed to expand the current research on equity in student achievement and to identify promising evidence-based interventions for improving student learning and success. Led in partnership with the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California, the Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success project is supported by funding from Strada Education Network and Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates.

A 2015 survey of chief academic officers at AAC&U’s member institutions shows that many institutions are tracking and disaggregating data on the retention and graduation rates of students from traditionally underserved groups, but far fewer are disaggregating data on students’ participation in high-impact educational practices or on their achievement of institutional learning outcomes. In addition, strategies for closing equity gaps are works in progress, and many institutions do not have explicit equity goals for student success outcomes. In other words, campus efforts to ask and answer questions about equity in student outcomes were not a core component of student success initiatives. With the most diverse student population in the history of US higher education, we do a disservice to our students by not engaging in equity-driven data analysis leading to institutional change that supports underserved student success. A failure to engage in such analysis is a failure of our educational system.

AAC&U’s new publication, A Vision for Equity, details findings from the thirteen campuses that participated in the Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project. Each campus outlines how they sought to build internal capacity to address inequities in student outcomes and narrow equity gaps through the following objectives:

  • increased access to and participation in high-impact practices
  • increased completion, retention, and graduation rates for low-income students, first-generation students, adult learners, and minoritized students
  • increased achievement of learning outcomes for underserved students using direct assessment measures, including AAC&U’s Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) rubrics
  • increased student awareness and understanding of the value of guided learning pathways that incorporate high-impact practices for workforce preparation and engaged citizenship

The participating campuses have implemented targeted student interventions, improved curricular designs and student pathways, enhanced academic support programs, strengthened high-impact practices, leveraged resources, created institutional tracking models, and designed professional development training for faculty and staff. The campuses have designed mechanisms for sharing data (e.g., equity dashboards, reports, regular campus-wide meetings, newsletters, and websites) and have embedded equity goals as strategic priorities. Several of the campuses have opened offices focused on equity and inclusion, and others have hired additional staff to advance equity goals.

As part of AAC&U’s recent conference, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Democracy: The Inconvenient Truths,” over 750 educators heard the opportunities the project created for campuses as well as the challenges that campus teams faced. In preconference workshops, concurrent workshops, and a plenary session, the campus leaders urged attendees to embrace equity and to make it pervasive across campus. As our colleagues from Carthage College remind us, we must be equity warriors!   

The significant strides made by the campus teams—from expanding their initial understanding of why equity matters to creating internal systems and structures that help ask and answer difficult questions about student success—speak to the dedication and commitment of all involved. Why equity matters should be a question that every educator should be able to answer, and ensuring student success should be the shared goal that we all have in common.

As AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella notes in A Vision for Equity, “Only by drawing attention to the persistent economic and cultural barriers that continue to undermine the equity imperative upon which the American Dream is built will we be able to fulfill the true promise of American higher education.”

Project findings from four of the campus teams will be the subject of an upcoming webinar on Thursday, April 19, 2018, at 3:00 p.m. (ET). This free webinar will provide participants with insights and knowledge about how to implement targeted student interventions, improve curricular designs and student pathways, enhance academic support programs, strengthen high-impact practices, leverage resources, create institutional tracking models, and design professional development training for faculty and staff. To register, go to https://www.aacu.org/webinar/equity.

This article is adapted from the foreword to A Vision for Equity (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2018). The complete publication is available at https://www.aacu.org/publications/vision-equity.

About AAC&U News

AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.

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