Most colleges and universities are developing and deploying equity initiatives designed to close gaps and improve outcomes for BIPOC and other underserved student groups across income, gender, and intersecting identities. Student success technologies help these efforts by expanding support services to meet student needs and enabling institutions to collect and evaluate the data necessary to inform ongoing improvements that advance equity, ensure college value, and transform lives.
Where should you start? Here are four ways to use technology to embed equity on your campus:
1. Assess how your administrative policies support (or hinder) institutional reform efforts
Eliminating harmful policies should be one of the first steps in your work to erase equity gaps. Many administrative policies limit access, progression, graduation, and economic mobility for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and women. If you've followed EAB's research in recent years, you know that we've been on a campaign to reform registration holds, which some partners have found disproportionately impact students of color. If you haven't reviewed your holds, now is the time.
Registration holds are just one example of why it is crucial to explore if your policies and practices do more harm than good when applied across your diverse student population. Other places to look for gaps include your admission and recruitment strategies, institutional financial aid packages, emergency grant programs, advising processes, developmental education outcomes, grading, major or program selection, and transfer pathways. If you have already made some reforms, interrogating your policies and processes through data will enable you to pinpoint areas that require additional work and provide an informed and intentional approach to the ongoing evaluation of systemic reforms.
2. Identify student behavior patterns and usage of resources to determine investments
In my CONNECTED20 presentation last year, I spoke about how support offices such as advising, tutoring, writing centers, and others departments on campus often lack the staff and skillset to understand the impact of racism and racial stress on the development of and academic success of our BIPOC students. This is an issue many campuses are actively working to address through specialized coaching, equity training, and inclusive hiring practices.
It is equally important to understand the accessibility of these support services to our students. California State University Fullerton (CSUF)'s Academic Advising Center (AAC) tracks student advising visits through Navigate. They found that engagement with advising increased overall when they moved to virtual appointments in Spring 2020. Curiously, engagement growth from Latinx students lagged behind the overall student body, while engagement from Black students increased dramatically during this same time.
Percent increase in advising appointments, CSU Fullerton
Spring 2019 (in-person) vs. Spring 2020 (virtual)
What is happening here? When asked, Latinx students told staff members that virtual advising doesn’t provide the same sense of community they got from interacting with advisors in person and running into their peers who are doing the same. Conversely, Black students shared that they preferred a virtual environment because they felt safer and more comfortable seeking help on Zoom—a bit of self-preservation to limit the number of potentially harmful interactions they might encounter on campus.
With the entire campus reopening on the horizon, CSUF advising staff are committed to offering in-person and virtual appointment options on an ongoing basis. They are also adding evening appointments so that student parents have the flexibility they need to attend advising appointments. Because of the patterns they saw in their data, they are deepening their partnership with the Latinx Community Resource Center team and other campus partners to ensure the needs of their students are continually met, regardless of modality.
3. Evaluate outcomes of academic interventions to improve their effectiveness
We all respond differently when we receive praise versus criticism, and our students are no different. Any harmful interactions diverse students have with faculty, advisors, or staff can have a ripple effect across campus and bleed into communities, creating widespread distrust. Knowing this, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) wanted to analyze their Starfish data to understand how students of different races and ethnicities react to varying academic interventions used by faculty and advisors.
NWTC found that all students were more likely to be retained if they met with a faculty member after being flagged for an academic concern. They were especially encouraged to find that the biggest intervention lifts were for Black and Latinx students. Across all populations, positive flags (“kudos”) submitted by instructors correlated with higher retention rates, especially for Black students. Wanting to build on these wins, NWTC faculty, advisors, and staff will participate in coaching workshops focused on language use and communication styles. Going a bit further, the NWTC team has also decided to introduce additional types of kudos to celebrate the “small wins,” or the incremental steps students are taking, given their impact on student outcomes. As NWTC put it, their faculty and advisors are the intervention, so knowing and testing what works matters.
4. Connect students to scholarships, High-Impact Practices (HIPs), and leadership opportunities
Across many of our campuses, the involvement of students in HIPs varies widely even though numerous studies demonstrate its impact on engagement, attainment, and learning outcomes, especially for Black, Latinx, and students older than 25. There are many barriers here, but the most common are often lack of awareness, unfamiliarity with the process, or lack of confidence to apply or participate in these opportunities.
Howard University’s Center for Honors and Scholar Development (CHSD) staff knew many more high-achieving students on their campus were eligible to apply for prestigious national scholarships. Yet their reliance on faculty identification of students, or for students to nominate themselves, meant they were reaching only a fraction of eligible students. To expand the pool of applicants, CHSD staff uses Navigate to identify and contact those who meet the scholarship criteria as early as sophomore year. In their junior and senior years, staff provide group and one-on-one support and advising to ensure the completion of competitive fellowship applications. By connecting and supporting applicants to apply to nationally competitive scholarships such as Rhodes, Fulbright, Luce, and many others—Howard University has seen a 237% increase in applicants in just one year.
We are increasingly seeing more partners use Navigate to promote HIPs like paid internships, mentoring, and study abroad programs that promote deeper equitable academic and social engagement for students. Because technology isn't only about helping students who aren't doing well; it's also about providing equal access and support to participate in rewarding educational experiences and opportunities.
The past year's challenges have prompted many student success practitioners to look closely at their policies, processes, and student services. This type of data evaluation is the role of technology and the future of our work in higher education. We must constantly assess our part in maintaining, exacerbating, or eliminating equity gaps across learning and support experiences and pathways. What we do going forward—what we change and what we retain—could make a difference for future generations of students and our communities.
Act on (and create) equity every day
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