Does your equity plan include these 4 steps to success for all students?

New guidance from Complete College America provides strategies and resources for institutions to close gaps.
By: | June 16, 2022
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How equitable is higher education when 17% more Black students are taking remedial courses than white students and only 10% of under-resourced students complete their studies within six years while others race into the job market?

Although colleges and universities are making strides to be more inclusive and more evenhanded in terms of educating and graduating all students, there is still work that must be done to repair decades of inequity. In order to get there, a number of resources exist to help institutions become more balanced—including those from the Center for Urban Education to the Racial Equity and Justice Institute to the National Association of System Heads.

But a new guide from Complete College America captures not only the history of equity and its purpose in higher ed but also what approaches colleges should take to effect change. Called No Middle Ground: Advancing Equity through Practice, the framework can be transformational for institutions struggling to make headway for under-resourced students.

“Now is the time to take a bold stance on equity. There is no room to stay on the sidelines,” says Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America and former assistant dean at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. “The only way for states and higher educational institutions to achieve the ambitious attainment goals laid out over the past decade is to sharpen their focus on students who is being left behind.”

The report showcases four key areas that institutions must consider in their efforts to attract, retain and see to completion students who identify Black, Indigenous, Latinx and People of Color—Purpose, Structure, Momentum and Support. The latter includes simply ensuring basic needs of students. Complete College America, which has helped identify reforms through its Game Changer initiatives, said institutions must be bold, get to know all of their students and keep an eye on pivotal student outcomes.

“At a time when an ever-growing number of jobs require some level of education and training beyond high school, strengthening higher education opportunities for all is a workforce, economic and civic imperative,” said Dr. Maria Markham, director of the Arkansas Division of Higher Education. “This report presents a compelling case for state and institutional leaders to act with greater urgency to ensure that students from every background have the opportunity to access and complete college or a workforce-relevant credential.”


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Report authors note the importance of institutions to own that prior disparities exist but want to make sweeping change. They “should be addressing racism head-on” and working to close gaps that exist, something that only will be effective if all campus leaders stakeholders and departments are involved. That not only could be a boon for colleges, it would help the U.S. economy potentially gain back more than $950 billion annually in lost revenue, according to Complete College America and a study from the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce.

One of the ways colleges can be more intentional in their embrace of equity is by looking at words commonly used on their campuses or in communications where they might be misused. The report highlights 10 terms, including “under-resourced,” “structural racism,” “performance gaps” and “systemic inequity,” that colleges can survey to ensure they are utilizing them properly.

No Middle Ground offers action steps and best practices for colleges to close those gaps, including: a more personalized approach to the student experience; creating a holistic academic process and new pathways to increase achievement; how to provide flexible learning options, and how to increase supports such as coaching and advising. Without those commitments, colleges and universities will remain status quo, CCA says.

“If colleges are not consciously and consistently working toward equity— including racial, economic, and other forms of equity—then they are perpetuating the broken promise of higher education,” authors wrote. “It is time for higher education to disrupt dysfunctional systems and pave the way for all of their students to complete college. By insisting on equity, institutions ensure that every student—in particular, those who have been historically excluded—has the career opportunities and life benefits available to those who hold degrees and other credentials of value.”