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Advancing Equity for Student Success

A a member of the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AAC&U’s) project, Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success,Clark Atlanta University (CAU) has expanded our commitment to equity, access, and success for the student population we serve. CAU’s strongly held principles guide the way we provide opportunities, resources, and services to create pathways for program completion. The equity project is directly related to the university’s quality enhancement plan (QEP) to enhance student learning, and CAU’s strategic plan identifies the importance of faculty and student engagement in high-impact practices and lifelong teaching and learning opportunities.

Clark Atlanta University is “Mobilizing for the Future” under the leadership of our new president, Ronald A. Johnson. CAU serves as a research university that transforms the lives of students by preparing them to be problem solvers through innovative learning programs; supportive interactions with faculty, staff, and students; exemplary scholarship; and purposeful service. The university demonstrates this commitment in its academic programs, business practices, steadfast efforts to develop and support a diverse student population, and implementation of programs to ensure opportunity and success. One of the strategic drivers for the university, increasing students’ academic and career success, directly parallels our commitment to equity and inclusive excellence. Our students succeeding and graduating with a purpose is a priority of Clark Atlanta University.

The Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project engages students and faculty at all levels of the university from executive leadership, deans, faculty, administrators, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students. This historic moment characterizes a community transforming to be equity-minded. As such, Clark Atlanta University is advancing equity by (1) adopting a new general education curriculum, (2) creating intentional faculty training and development, (3) redesigning the first-year seminar model (framework in progress), (4) participating in the United Negro College Fund’s Career Pathways Initiative, and (5) providing student transition services. These strategies are highlighted in this article.

New General Education Core Curriculum

Led by a team of department faculty chairs, CAU implemented a new general education program in fall 2016. The learning outcomes of the redesigned core curriculum provide access to and participation in several high-impact practices (HIPs). The learning outcomes of the redesigned general education core embrace the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ VALUE rubrics (civic engagement, creative and critical thinking, ethical reasoning, information literacy, inquiry and analysis, integrative learning, intercultural knowledge, oral and written communication, reading, problem solving, and quantitative literacy). The learning outcomes are for students to become (1) skilled in integrative and collaborative learning; (2) competent in critical and creative thinking; (3) competent in multicultural and global interactions; (4) competent in financial, quantitative, technological, and scientific literacy; (5) proficient in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and nonverbal communication; (6) appreciative of the humanities / fine arts; and (7) mindful of personal and professional ethics, human values, and holistic wellness.

The general education core curriculum is introduced during the first-year seminar experience along with educational practices such as undergraduate research, career preparation and development, common intellectual experiences, and learning community experiences.

Intentional Faculty Training and Development

Faculty training is critical to the success of the project. The primary training goal is to implement professional development workshops to support the seven learning outcomes of the new general education requirements, four levels of inquiry that underpin CAU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), and five cornerstones of the United Negro College Fund’s Career Pathways Initiative. Selected faculty members from the four schools at CAU (Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, Education, and Social Work) are receiving training on integrating high-impact practices into the curricula and measuring the impact on student learning outcomes. A team of fifteen to twenty faculty members are participating in a series of workshops to develop signature assignments and rubrics related to the general education student learning outcomes, QEP, Career Pathways Initiative, and HIPs. During the workshops, faculty design signature assignments and rubrics for integrating HIPs and one of the initiatives mentioned above into their pedagogy. Upon completion of the workshops, faculty members are expected to implement the assignments and share their new knowledge with colleagues during departmental faculty meetings and other training opportunities (a “train-the-trainer” model) to reach at least 80 percent of the faculty.

Career Pathways Initiative

CAU’s participation in the Career Pathways Initiative serves as an accelerator for the university’s ongoing efforts to better prepare our students for permanent employment and graduate and professional school. CAU’s five Career Pathways Initiative cornerstones include

  • career planning and professional development
  • improving teaching and student learning outcomes to prepare our students for full-time employment and graduate or professional school
  • faculty-mentored undergraduate performance and research across all disciplines
  • faculty development to better inform our faculty to complement the offerings of our Career and Professional Development office and confer the skills employers want or need and
  • improving student support services, including in the Career Placement Department

Student Transition Services

To further advance equity on an ongoing basis, the university is developing a transition center that will focus on meeting the gap in services for transfer students and increasing satisfaction as they transition to the university. The center will partner with other units at the university as campus partners to provide transition services for students to close the equity gap and increase persistence and progression. The transition center will identify resources for students’ guided pathways at any given transitional point at CAU (e.g., entering the first year or senior year) along with mentorship, training, and leadership opportunities. The students’ experience will be enhanced through participation in transition learning groups.

Assessments will play key roles in determining how the university advanced equity and improved students’ learning experiences through participation in the project. Several campus actions and instruments for measuring the use of HIPs and student success will be used:

  • learning management system statistics and analytics
  • eportfolio development
  • student response systems
  • real-time data collection activities (student polls, interviews, focus groups, surveys, and other analytic tools)

CAU will take the following actions to track data for continuous improvements and gains in bridging the equity gap:

  • complete an inventory of campus action items
  • continue campus initiatives for project goals
  • successfully track faculty participation
  • successfully track student participation/success in initiatives
  • initiate assessment activities
  • evaluate completed assessments to determine success
  • successfully engage faculty and appropriate administrators to scale up practices

With the achievement of these goals, Clark Atlanta University will continue to move in an upward trajectory. The collaborative effort and engagement involved in the Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project will develop and implement viable, robust guided pathways for success that close the equity gaps for CAU students to become engaged scholars that complete with a purpose.

Gwen Mitchell, Director, Center for Faculty and Professional Development; and Michelle Rhodes, Transfer Specialist, Transfer Student Services, both of Clark Atlanta University

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