Creating Equity Solutions

March 3, 2022 Watermark Insights

When we talk about “equity” in higher education, we mean creating “fairness” in education so that all students have access to what they need in order to achieve academic success. An “equity solution,” then, would be a way forward towards creating the path to achieving that equity. Creating that path, however, is easier said than done, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Given that there are many roads to achieving an equity solution for higher ed and ed tech, institutions should first think about what goes into creating that equitable path. 

“Success coaching is an advising approach that is customized to the needs and goals of each individual student, providing support and guidance for both academic and non-academic needs. Focusing on a holistic and proactive approach to advising, technology-enabled success coaching supports not just the student, but the person and their unique situation.”

— Alexander Leader, CIO, Watermark Insights

The Thinking Behind Enacting Equity

In a 2016 article published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) titled “Five Principles for Enacting Equity by Design,” the article’s authors acknowledge that higher education equity reform efforts must be “infused with an awareness of the ways in which many groups within US society have been historically excluded from educational opportunities, or marginalized within the structures and institutions that house those opportunities.”

The article goes on to state that, “we have characterized this awareness as equity-mindedness—a way of approaching educational reform that foregrounds the policies and practices contributing to disparities in educational achievement and abstains from blaming students for those accumulated disparities.”

Article authors Estela Mara Bensimon, Alicia C. Dowd, and Keith Witham then highlighted five principles to helping achieve equity reform:

  1. Clarity in language, goals, and measures is vital to effective equitable practices -- Since language can easily be imbued with social or political meaning, it is vital to use language and create goals and measures that create equity and not just equality. Equity does not mean treating all students the same, it means accounting for students’ differences and creating individualized approaches that will support each student where they are at in order to help them achieve success.
  2. “Equity-mindedness” should be the guiding paradigm for language and action -- Equity-mindedness means that individuals are acutely aware of the historical context of the exclusionary systems and practices that have occurred in higher education. Therefore, equity-minded individuals are color-conscious, not color-blind, aware that past practices may actually be racially discriminatory and disadvantageous, willing to assume responsibility for eliminating inequity, and are aware that racism can permeate policies and practices in higher education institutions.
  3. Equitable practice and policies are designed to accommodate differences in the contexts of students’ learning—not to treat all students the same -- By taking into consideration the whole student — their aspirations as well as their circumstances (financial, health, familial obligations) both on campus and off — student success programs are able to meet students’ needs on an individual basis.
  4. Enacting equity requires a continual process of learning, disaggregating data, and questioning assumptions about relevance and effectiveness -- Continually analyzing and interpreting data allows learning institutions to make adjustments that will improve their programs and ultimately their student success rates.
  5. Equity must be enacted as a pervasive institution- and system-wide principle -- An equity solution cannot be achieved within one program or department. Equity solutions need to be institution-wide, incorporating feedback and information from across campus so as to create a more well-rounded picture of each student. Equity solutions where information is readily available across the campus system allows administrators, professors, and student success coaches to all be involved in creating an equity solution that will meet the needs of their students. 

“If you are willing to increase your cultural awareness and fluency, you can connect with most folks on some level, that is what it’s all about. Using this equitable mindset provides an opportunity to forge something great that transcends any similarities, or differences, in how we identify.”

— Jairo McMican, Dean of Student Learning at Central Carolina Community College and Director of Equity Pathways at the North Carolina Student Success Center.

Putting Equity Solutions into Practice

In an effort to learn what actions learning institutions are already taking to create an equity solution, Aviso Retention asked higher education institutions, “What is your higher education institution doing to help close the equity gap?” More than one hundred institutions answered our question. From implicit bias training to assigning student success coaches in early transition courses to creating a Diversity Strategic Plan, higher learning institutions across the country have made implementing an equity solution a priority for their campus. Here are just a small sample of the equity solutions we received, which range from the simple to the complex, including:

  1. Helping build community college capacity to identify equity gaps and devise strategies to address them.
  2. Training success coaches to support their colleges in addressing systemic racism.
  3. Internal professional development regarding equity and racism.
  4. Incorporating an Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan into the colleges' strategic plan involving curriculum, HR, the Equity and Inclusion Council, and Student Services.
  5. Preparing a three-year strategic plan to help close the gaps by identifying students' needs.
  6. Working to diversify staff and faculty.
  7. Identifying structures that reproduce inequities and restructuring them.
  8. Creating programming and workshops on equitable practices, and increasing communication and presence on campus.
  9. Gaining another therapist for the college and creating a Diversity Officer position.
  10. Using CARES Act funds to purchase laptops for students to borrow during the semester.
  11. Becoming more data-informed and partnering heavily with Achieving the Dream to examine equity gaps and opportunities to close those gaps.
  12. Partnering with Aviso Retention, which will definitely assist with improving equity gaps through analytics and proactive student supports.
  13. Implementing a Student Success project that incorporates academic advising/mentoring and helping underserved students and institutions communicate proactively to avoid risks and increase retention and certificate completion.
  14. Providing responsive resources (THRIVE - T-tuition/finances, H-health/wellness, R-resources/ I-instruction/academics, V-vocation/careers, E- extracurricular/events).
  15. Bridging middle, high school, and GED students to college readiness and career preparedness information and opportunities.
  16. Strengthening academic advising.
  17. Implementing Carnegie Math Pathways.
  18. Maximizing the effectiveness of our orientation/first year experience.
  19. Exploring options for internet accessibility.
  20. Becoming an Achieving The Dream (ATD) institution with a focus on closing equity gaps to increase retention as one of our action plan goals.
  21. Hiring an ATD equity coach.
  22. Implementing Aviso data-driven program.
  23. Forming an Equity and Belonging committee to examine our policies and procedures for students and our hiring practices.
  24. Implementing the Aviso Early Alert System (partnership between academic and student affairs);TRIO Student Support Services, Student Assistance Program, Library Laptop/HotSpot Loan Program, NCWorks Community Partnerships, Continuing Education Programs, and the Women's Center.
  25. Utilizing teams to identify students that are experiencing issues and supporting those students through their difficulties.
  26. Combining the CARE Team and Inclusion Council with stronger use of Aviso programming for communicating with students and individuals that can support the students.
  27. Implementing an Equity Institute, training for faculty and staff, mentorships to close achievement gaps for male and female students of color.
  28. Following the Achieving The Dream (ATD) models, advising redesign, academic & career pathways implementation, strategic plan, and organizational restructuring - all during COVID and remote work.

Like Aviso Retention, some of these institutions are working with Achieving the Dream, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Advising Success Network - researching, communicating, and implementing best practices to achieve more equitable institutions.

Given that there are many solutions to creating equity, and with the principles of equity-mindedness at the forefront, Aviso created an equity solution that has proven successful through its First in the World (FITW) research program with DVP-PRAXIS. The FITW program was designed to determine if proactive and individualized success coaching would improve student retention. Working in partnership with 10 community college programs, Aviso applied a combination of targeted success coaching, predictive analytics, technology supports, and business process changes. The research results showed that by providing proactive (early) alerts for at-risk students and custom communications, we are able to support the most at-risk and underserved students with success.

In addition, As part of our ongoing commitment to closing the racial equity gap, Aviso Retention partnered with North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) and Dr. J.J. Evans, NCCCS Associate Director of Student Life to conduct this important research including 9 institutions to develop the Minority Male Success Initiative (MMSI), addressing and increasing the progression and completion rates of minority male students. By encouraging participation and collaboration with students, Aviso seeks to increase student success, maximize student and departmental participation, and increase program effectiveness and efficiency at these institutions and beyond. For Aviso, this research is a catalyst for developing a process to help minority males achieve student success on college campuses nationwide.

By combining best practices, advanced technology, and millions of engagements, Aviso has been able to turn measured results into an automated engagement engine that learns where risk lies and how and where higher education institutions can optimize their impact.

Equity solutions that address students’ challenges at the precise moment when they can be turned into an opportunity allows student success coaches to engage with students in ways that foster relationships and enhances student learning and engagement with the institution’s learning community in order to help close the equity gap.

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