Peer Review

Students Thrive When Institutions Commit to Equity and Excellence

Across the country, a cohort of thirteen institutions are working toward improving student success by focusing on their commitment to equity and excellence for all students, particularly low-income, first-generation, adult, and minority students. These institutions are part of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)’s three-year project, Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success.

Strada Education Network, formerly USA Funds, is proud to support this work, as we believe it will lead to more students thriving in college, completing their degree, and finding a fulfilling career. With additional funding and assistance from the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates, the goal of these thirteen institutions is to address their equity gaps by raising student awareness and understanding of guided learning pathways. These guided pathways are intended to better prepare students for what they will experience upon graduation when they enter the workforce and their chosen career field.

The success of this project will be seen in three ways: increased course completion, retention, and graduation rates for their target student populations; increased achievement of learning outcomes for underserved students using direct assessment methods; and increased student understanding of guided learning pathways that incorporate workforce preparation and engaged citizenship practices.

Over the last year, the participating institutions have set progression metrics to mark their success in providing more equitable education that is relevant to careers for all students.

While it may take several years to see the full influence of this work on students, participating institutions have already learned lessons that can benefit all colleges and universities. The first major takeaway for those interested in increasing their commitment to equity is that faculty understanding and support is critical to advancing this work. Constant communication and professional development opportunities are essential to the success of this initiative and any that another institution seeks to progress. Faculty need professional development in multiple ways, most notably to improve their cultural competence in working with students from diverse backgrounds and to understand how to use data effectively so that they can tailor it to the individual student.

And even more important than faculty buy-in is the commitment of leadership and administrators. There is no shortage of major initiatives that postsecondary institutions face each year, and many campuses face initiative fatigue. That’s why it is vital that college presidents and administrators make this work a priority, communicate its importance through their strategic plan, and participate in the development of staff and faculty from start to finish.

These lessons are being applied to the participating institutions now, and we will see next year how better communication, prioritization, and professional development affect the ability of these institutions to advance their commitment to equity and excellence for all students.

We at Strada Education are eager to see this work continue and hope that other AAC&U institutions will join the efforts of these thirteen pioneers. The average college student today comes from a diverse background, often returns to postsecondary education after working, or may be a first-generation student. We must work with these students to help them overcome barriers and succeed. When we commit to equitable education and excellence for all, more students will complete with a purpose and achieve a fulfilling career and life.

Lorenzo Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, Strada Education Network

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