Peer Review

Committing to Equity: A Catalyst for Institutional Transformation

At Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), the ability to integrate the development of its Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence campus action plan with the college’s new strategic plan provided several opportunities that could not have been predicted. Because these two endeavors occurred simultaneously, a college-wide commitment to equity permeated every strategic plan goal and objective.
AACC’s campus action plan (1) led to an examination of the institutional policies, procedures, and resources necessary to provide all students with the opportunity to complete their educational goals; (2) provided a formalized mechanism to reinforce to the campus community the necessity of making data-driven decisions to improve student outcomes; and (3) announced that student outcomes would be disaggregated by race and ethnicity, making the focus on achievement gaps inescapable.

Giving the Campus a Broader Focus

The campus action plan was developed during a period of significant transition at AACC. In January 2016, AACC President Dawn Lindsay announced that over the next several years, the school’s focus would be on designing and implementing structured academic and career pathways for all students. This strategy was necessary to transform the campus culture and operations from its traditional focus on access to a broader focus on both access and completion.

At the same time, the AAC&U project team was working on its campus action plan. Their action plan aligned very well with the AACC strategic plan as it provided tools, resources, and coaching that focused the campus on how to be equity-minded as the difficult work of institutional transformation began in earnest. The two plans matched so well that the president’s cabinet discussed an integration schedule that aligned the AAC&U action plan’s timeline with the college’s strategic planning process. This integration meant that the campus action plan emerged as an important framework that helped shape the college’s new strategic plan, Engagement Matters: Pathways to Completion (FY 2017–2020).

Other significant accomplishments to emerge from the implementation of the campus action plan were the creation of an Equity Resource Team (ERT) and the establishment of equity-focused data dashboards. The ERT, which includes faculty and instructional staff that began work in summer 2016, provides a unique opportunity to focus on equity by narrowing achievement gaps in course success, retention, and completion. In fall 2016, the pilot group focused on creating best practices for culturally responsive teaching in courses with high enrollments (Biology 101, Business & Its Environment 111, Chemistry 111, Introduction to Psychology 111, and Developmental Mathematics). Preliminary meetings began with the sharing of data that revealed equity gaps in particular disciplines. Throughout that semester, faculty utilized culturally responsive teaching practices and cross-cultural communication pedagogies, learned about high-impact practices, and worked with various experts and educational partners within the college and local community to increase student completion and success. The ERT discipline sub-teams were also given time to consider how to integrate best practices into their courses to increase retention and completion. These best practices were piloted by ERT faculty in spring 2017 classes. In fall 2017, the strategies will begin to be scaled into all sections of the above disciplines.

The work of the ERT resulted in four broad strategies that all disciplines can apply to enhance college-wide professional development opportunities to increase student retention:

  1. Provide the opportunity for faculty to participate in a yearlong professional development program for a cohort of faculty that incorporates weekly online activities emphasizing equity, student success, and academic excellence.
  2. Focus on teaching excellence by implementing required group assignments in classrooms (both face-to-face and online) that emphasize student engagement.
  3. Increase access to textbooks via strategies such as using open educational resources or placing copies on reserve in the library or academic departments.
  4. Ensure that each course’s content represents a diverse set of identities.

In coming years, additional disciplines will implement similar practices, with the intent that culturally responsive teaching strategies are firmly embedded college-wide. The ERT initiative includes the following unique goals:

  • Establish a sample of faculty and student participants to address the goals of the AAC&U action plan and the AACC strategic plan.   
  • Support faculty and instructional staff from similar courses or academic programs by providing them access to equity and achievement gap data pertinent to their teaching responsibilities.
  • Employ a participatory action-research methodology to help campus constituents understand why equity and achievement gaps exist along with trying to affect change through collaboration and reflection.
  • Create a set of evidence-based strategies that are assessable and measurable.
  • Provide faculty with a stipend for their work.
  • Establish faculty expertise as paramount in addressing equity gaps at the course level.
  • Afford opportunities for ongoing professional development and mentoring of colleagues.

Incorporating an Equity Lens

Development of the campus action plan focused the college on the necessity of improving course and program assessment by incorporating an equity lens. Thus, the strategic plan has fourteen institutional key performance indicators (KPIs), which will have a standardized set of variables to be disaggregated, including by race/ethnicity, so that equity disparities are routinely monitored. Because it is critical to have interim assessment points that note ongoing progress toward each KPI, the college has determined predictive measures that will provide quarterly status updates for the KPIs and allow for timely feedback so that adjustments to initiatives can be made to improve outcomes.

In fall 2016, a revised and enhanced comprehensive program review process was introduced to assess course, program, and institutional outcomes. The new comprehensive program review was intentionally aligned with institutional KPIs and course success initiatives to ensure continuous improvement and a focus on equity.  Specifically, by including artifacts from courses, this process allows for the identification of where improvements need to be made in learning for all students, and this data will be matched with course pass rates that have been disaggregated by race. The correlation of these data will be used to examine the intersection of learning and completion, while also ensuring that equity is achieved for both. Another product of the campus action plan—the establishment of easily accessible, equity-focused data dashboards—has been critical to changing AACC’s culture. The intent is that the focus on achievement gaps is inescapable for the college community, and the result will be a transformed institution that is characterized by an inclusive and student-ready culture. 

Kathy Bolton, Special Assistant to the Vice President for Learning; Rick Fine, Dean of Planning, Research & Institutional Assessment; Michael Gavin, Vice President for Learning; Alicia Morse, Dean, School of Liberal Arts,all of Anne Arundel Community College; Jacqueline Jackson, Dean of Student Services; James Felton, Chief Diversity Officer, both ormerly of Anne Arundel Community College

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