4 colleges team up to launch equity ‘Moon Shot’ in Cincinnati and No. Kentucky

'There have been too many people on the sidelines that we have to get off the sidelines,' college president says
By: | September 24, 2021
Gateway Community & Technical College is working to ensure students experience more of a “warm hand-off” between high school and college, college and four-year universities, and higher ed and the workforce.Gateway Community & Technical College is working to ensure students experience more of a “warm hand-off” between high school and college, college and four-year universities, and higher ed and the workforce.

Equity comes down to fifth-graders for Fernando Figueroa, the president of Gateway Community & Technical College in Kentucky. There are several things they need to understand about their potential, he says.

“I want them to know they have talents and to know talents are valued by the community,” Figueroa says. “I want them to know where they can refine those talents and where they can get work in our region with their talents, and that their zip codes have nothing to do with their economic and social potentials.”

That’s a driving force behind the college’s decision to join the region’s newly launched Moon Shot for Equity consortium with Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Miami University and Northern Kentucky University.

The Moon Shot for Equity, which first launched in Wisconsin and was highlighted by University Business in November, is based on 15 best practices for erasing equity gaps that have been curated by the education firm, EAB, a leader of the project.

Institutions participating in the project commit to partnering with local high schools and local business and community leaders to help more underserved students gain access to college. “We want to make sure our process is student-focused with the full range of students we’re working with, particularly those who have not felt that higher education is a given for them,” Figueroa says. “There have been too many people on the sidelines that we have to get off the sidelines.”

Figueroa said his institution is also motivated by research from Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce that shows 80% of jobs created since the 2008 Great Recession require post-secondary degrees.

Kentucky’s post-secondary institutions are required to have extensive and authentic diversity and inclusion plans covering student recruitment strategies and graduation rates, hiring and unconscious bias training, and putting an equity lens on all operations.

Following the Moon Shot’s best practices, Gateway Community & Technical College is looking to reform remedial education, which has been a challenge throughout higher education. The college is working toward integrating this development education into the general curriculum so students can get credits while catching up to college-level work, Figueroa says.

Another priority will be ensuring students experience more of a “warm hand-off” between high school and college, college and four-year universities, and higher ed and the workforce. This includes helping students with setting a clearer vision in earning credentials and embarking on their careers.

“The headwinds we’re going to be facing is an overall appreciation in the community of the challenges of people of color, particularly in achieving economic opportunity,” Figueroa says. “Education cannot merely be a passive understanding of inequities but an active resolution as a community to say this will not stand—everybody’s welfare is good for all us.”

‘Engage, learn, reflect’

The power of regional partners to work together to close achievement gaps and boost graduate rates is a key reason Miami University in Ohio joined the Moon Shot, President Gregory Crawford tells University Business. 

More Moon Shots

A second Moon Shot consortium has formed in the Philadephia suburbs, where

West Chester University is teaming up with nearby Delaware County Community College on a range of equity initiatives.

The partners have a lot of work to do to narrow the equity gaps in the region’s education system and economy to zero, Crawford says. “But just having one more graduate who stays here, that’s one more K-12 teacher who could educate thousands, one more scientist or engineer who makes a breakthrough discovery, one more entrepreneur who creates jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers, one more novelist or composer who their brings art to the community.”

Miami University intends to focus on fortifying the pipeline from community college to four-year institutions. That includes the Bridges program the university offers to underrepresented high school juniors and seniors in the region.

Though the school already provides ample financial aid packages, administrators are now prioritizing microgrants to help students pay outstanding bills that could prevent them from registering for classes, Crawford says.

Miami University has also developed several residence hall-based living-learning communities where students with similar interests can live together. The school also plans to use the student success technology platform embedded in the Moon Shot project to intervene more proactively if a student begins to rack up absences or struggles with homework or a mid-term.

“Our programs on campus are far-reaching,” Crawford says. “We engage diversity, we learn from diversity and we reflect diversity.”

Is it working in Wisconsin?

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Milwaukee Area Technical College and Carthage College embarked on the Moon Shot last fall. Those institutions have formed task forces to focus on transfer pathways, proactive advising, retention and emergency grants, and hold reform, says Tom Sugar, EAB’s vice president of partnerships.

The University of Wisconsin, Parkside, for example, removed 40 holds on allowing students to register for classes after EAB did an audit of the institution. The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, removed 33 holds and increased the threshold for a hold from $10 to $1,500. At the latter institution, some 500 students may have been retained due to the reforms, Sugar says.

And though all four institutions have articulation agreements, administrators are now digging into more granular data, such as how many credits students have left when they transfer. The institutions are now working to bolster the transfer system to better serve students who too often have to navigate the process on their own.

Diversity and inclusion expert Shaun Harper, a professor in the Rossier School of Education and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, is now working with Moon Shot institutions to provide equity-mindedness and consciousness-raising training for administrators, faculty and staff.

“For too long, higher education has put the onus on students of color and other underserved student populations to adapt and overcome instead of reforming institutional barriers that make their educational journey more arduous than it has to be,” Sugar says. “All of the schools that have joined the Moon Shot for Equity have committed to fixing those institutional impediments.”