Welcome to the Office Hours with EAB podcast. You can join the conversation on social media using #EABOfficeHours. Follow the podcast on Spotify, Google Play, Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud and Stitcher or visit our podcast homepage for additional episodes.
EAB’s Meacie Fairfax, a Black woman, and Ed Venit, a white man, share ways that their lived experiences have influenced their views on unequal educational outcomes for students of color, those who are the first in their families to attend college, and other underserved student populations.
Ed and Meacie examine data that offer insights into the magnitude of the challenge colleges face in getting existing students to register for the fall. Their discussion touches on the disproportionate impact of the pandemic, as well the murder of George Floyd and the long line of injustices that preceded it, on the lives of minority students and their communities. Finally, they offer specific actions that university leaders must take now to keep potentially vulnerable students on the path to earning a college degree.
00:11 Matt Pellish: From EAB, I’m Matt Pellish and this is Office Hours, the weekly podcast addressing education’s most pressing issues. The past several weeks, we’ve discussed everything from a global pandemic, the resulting economic downturn and the social political unrest in the country. On this week’s episode of Office Hours, we welcome two of EAB’s Student Success experts, Meacie Fairfax and Ed Venit, to talk about equity gaps in higher ed and the disproportionate impact these events have had on the lives and educational outcomes of minority, first generation, low-income, other at-risk student populations. They’ll also share how their lived experiences as a black woman and a white man respectively influenced their views on equity gaps in higher ed, as well as the actions they’ve identified through years of research, the university leaders can take to help these students on the path to a degree. Thanks for listening, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB.
01:07 Ed Venit: Hi, this is Ed Venit.
01:08 Meacie Fairfax: And this is Meacie Fairfax streaming from DC.
01:11 EV: Yeah, we’re here today to talk about equity and student success and how it relates to the pandemic, and we thought it was important to start off, because we are gonna be talking about equity to disclose, I am a white man.
01:22 MF: And I’m a black woman.
01:24 EV: So we’re gonna be interested in having a conversation with each other across the course of this, viewed through our own lenses and our own shared experiences… Or our lived experiences I should say as it pertains to this question, but also through our roles working as Student Success researchers here at EAB and what we’ve been learning about equity and success for the last few years, but especially during the pandemic.
01:47 MF: Yeah.
01:47 EV: So that will be our topic for the day.
01:49 MF: Absolutely. And Ed and I have had a variety of conversations over the last few years regarding this issue, and so I’ll kick it off, just to ask a question that’s kind of on the top of everyone’s mind, we know all the usual models out there to predict… To project fall enrollment are kinda out the window and for obvious reasons. So what are some of the data sources that folks should be looking at right now to get a better source of who actually will come back to campus this fall?
02:18 EV: The number that I look at the most that I really like is the National College Access Network. I think they changed their name recently; the A is now…
02:27 MF: That’s right. Attainment Network.
02:29 EV: National College Attainment Network, NCAN, has been tracking FAFSA renewals and those are down. They’re down a few percentage points and they’re really down for students who are Pell eligible. So that sort of bridges or our first equity conversation right here today, to talk about that. The overall national numbers are down in a little over 3%, and I think for Pell eligible students it’s closer to 5%. And what this is telling me is that it is… Well, it’s easy to register. It is more difficult to fill out the FAFSA, just takes more time. So if students are maintaining optionality, they’re doing the easy thing but not the hard thing. Until they do the hard thing of actually applying for financial aid money, we can’t really count them as in the class for the fall. So as we get back to the original question, that’s one of the equity indicators. Or sorry, the continuing student indicators that I trust the most.
03:18 MF: Well, that’s interesting because when we look at FAFSA renewals… And we know that there’s usually a big push for them to initially complete the FAFSA, but in terms of the renewals, have colleges talked about what they’re doing there in supporting students to make sure that those get completed?
03:36 EV: Yeah, so that’s a great question as well. For those who aren’t as familiar, the FAFSA, of course, is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. So you have to fill it out to get any kind of financial aid, really from the federal government, inclusive of the loans, Pell grants, a lot of institutional aid is also keyed on that as well, and you need to renew it each year. So if you fill it out once as an incoming student, you still have to fill it out again and again as your financial situations may change each year. So this is something schools handle differently. Some schools want to do a lot of FASFA renewals as soon as possible in the spring semester for the fall, as soon as they open up. Others won’t really push their students to do it until maybe later in the spring or summer. The key here though is it’s not always easy and there’s a lot of steps in the financial aid process, particularly if you don’t have a lot of experience doing this sort of thing. So where schools might get… Or students might get tripped up as in things like accepting, signing the right forms. There’s a promissory note. Sometimes they get flagged for verification. That’s a confusing process.
04:40 EV: So the best thing schools can do is really, really closely monitor which students seem to not be having their financial aid hit their accounts, meaning, they might have balances that are open or they might be at risk for being dropped for non-payment, and then explore those students. Reach out to them and try to figure out why. A lot of the time, it is because something got gumped up in the financial aid paperwork process. And again, the less likely it is that you, quote unquote, “know what you’re doing here,” if you are a first time student who can’t rely on their parents who have done this sort of thing before, or maybe if you’re just on your own trying to do this and fill out a fairly bureaucratic form from the federal government. It could be confusing. You don’t know how it works. But if there’s people on your campus, and there should be in the financial aid office or in advising or anywhere else that can guide a student through this very complex process, those people should be deployed in full force right now ’cause we do wanna make sure that as many students can get their aid and can get back to school as soon as possible. We always want that, but even more so this year because can’t afford to have a single student not come back who wants to because of a logistical problem or administrative problem like a paperwork issue associated with financial aid.
05:52 MF: So we talked about one… So that’s one data source, right? So what’s a couple of others that folks should be taking a look at?
06:00 EV: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of indicators out there for different things. You and I recently wrote a blog post about this, maybe I can ask you a few questions about that, looking at indicators that are especially equity-related. Because if we look at these numbers and we say, “Okay, continued student enrollment. Even if it’s down 4% in the fall, that’s not great but it’s not the end of the world.” But if you dig a little bit deeper, there’s a lot of indicators that actually were hidden within that is a nuance saying, “Well, which students might not be coming back?” And there’s quite a bit of concern that it’s going to be really what we consider to be our three big equity populations that are gonna have the hardest first time. We have students of color, Pell eligible students and first-generation students. And of course, there’s a lot of overlap between those groups.
06:49 EV: Well, so we did a little bit of research into different indicators that might tell us what’s going on with these populations, and well, it wasn’t looking good. None of these things are precise. We encourage schools to run their own numbers to see how their different populations are faring, but we can walk through a couple of the things that we found. So I know that… Meacie, what was your… What was the one that stood out to you the most from that blog post that we wrote?
07:15 MF: Well, so I think it’s tough, right? But I would probably start with community infection rate. Right?
07:20 EV: Yeah, pretty much.
07:21 MF: With everything that’s happening with COVID-19, very quickly, everyone saw the disproportionate impact on our communities of color, and what we found, there’s even more studies coming out, even past what we actually published our blog post, that 11%, or even up to 15% of African Americans, blacks know someone who has died as a result of COVID-19 versus as low as 2, or maybe 1% in whites.
07:51 EV: Yeah.
07:51 MF: So we’re seeing the dramatic impact that it’s having one of those communities at a point where now we’re talking about… And I think this is kind of the right point to talk about the racial strife that we’re having as well. Folks have talked about the duality of the pandemics, but honestly, I feel it is three-fold at this point. We’re talking about the health risk, we’re talking about the financial risk, and we’re also talking about the racial implications of inequities that we have yet to fix within our country.
08:23 EV: Yeah. I do wanna get to George Floyd and the ensuing protest and conversations that have been happening, but let’s put a pin in that for just a second and go back to the other thing you were saying about community infection rate, just in general. For the listeners, walk through what that might mean for a student. So you and I had several really interesting discussions about this, about what kind of psychological impact, financial impact, social impact that students might be feeling if they are in a community with a really high infection rate, or they did know someone who got sick, or even someone who died. Unpack that a little bit. So how do you see that as… What are some of the specific things we should be mindful of and watchful for, I guess, as we go forward to the fall, as we see the impact of this, again, the community infection rate?
09:13 MF: Absolutely.
09:16 EV: Yeah.
09:17 MF: Well, I think that the largest part is we can’t underestimate the psychological toll of this, where folks who… We have to realize that many of our students of color and many of our low-income students are in multi-generational households, may be frontline workers, so a lot of them, depending on the choices that their college or others may make, may find that they… It’s hard for them to make a decision, because they have to think not only of themselves, but of their larger impact on their communities, potentially, if they could spread the disease, or if they don’t take the necessary precautions. I think a lot of folks would say from the onset, they have largely haven’t been a protected class, so they’re seeing this unfortunately at large numbers. When we talk about communities across the United States, majority black communities, you’re seeing sometimes a four to six times the amount of infections, and with it, the deaths. 60% of the infections within New York were within the black community and Latinx community. So what we really have to do here is listen and understand what’s happening with our students. They may, and many of them have, put their academics on the back burner and are trying to take care of their family in the midst of this pandemic, and I think that’s something that campus leaders have to always have at the forefront of their mind.
10:48 EV: Yeah, there’s a lot of competing demands on time and mental bandwidth and emotional bandwidth in a situation like that, and I think that’s something else that we need to acknowledge. Even if the students show back up on campus, are they ready to learn, or is this gonna be this large distraction, which could result in students maybe not making it all the way through the semester, or they wanna go home, or being pulled still mentally and emotionally in a lot of different directions as they’re trying to do full-time coursework in the fall, perhaps on-campus, perhaps away from their home community. It’s definitely something to consider, for sure.
11:26 EV: Let’s pivot back then to the protests, and George Floyd, and everything along those lines, because there’s more fuel on the fire, so to speak, as far as the stress and anxiety and whatnot that students, especially from communities of color might be feeling right now. So you got the pandemic, and now we got this other thing as well. It’s also stressful, of course for everybody because this is something we’re going through together as a people. So I’m not trying to minimize that at all, but what specifically do we need to be thinking about for the fall, on campus right now, to continue this conversation in a positive way and also to ensure that our campuses are welcoming environments that are giving students fair shots and are doing their best to address their own systemic racism?
12:18 MF: That’s a good question. And this is one I’ve been thinking a lot about, because there’s this… We talked about if our students are safe on our campus, and I think we really have to take a deeper look at, what exactly does that mean? There’s been talk for a while and folks wondering about the value of an education. We’re not here to kind of have that conversation, but there’s a sense already, and what we’ve heard from student polling that the students weren’t so confident in their COVID-19 responses of their campus leaders and now folks are wondering, how are they going to address the racial strife, the health of our community when we do come back? What does that look like? How are they gonna make sure that if I do come back and my family, of many of the indicators that we talk about within our blog, maybe have lost a job, how are we gonna make that up financially to make sure that I can actually attend and not be under this financial pressure?
13:20 MF: So there’s a lot of things for us to consider when we’re thinking about our students on campus and what they need, and a lot of what Ed and I talked through and put into our blog was these considerations of what we have to unpack, of what they’re facing. The other thing I’ll add to this as well is that we can’t dispute the loss of a job, right, that’s traumatic. And we know that many of these students or their loved ones may have lost a job, so we’re talking about the loss of income and the loss of, again, stability. There’s been conversations, and I don’t wanna go on too far, let me pause for a second because there’s been so many things, I have to be honest, there’s been so many things that have been swirling in my mind in terms of how to make sure that our students are taken care of, because there are so many facets of this that we haven’t had to take a look at and that are being extremely exacerbated because of this crisis.
14:20 EV: Right, right. I think that we’ve figured out there were four different indicators that we looked at, ranging from employment to community health, we looked at the NCAN, FAFSA, work and student polling itself, what students are saying, indicating if they’re coming back or not, and sure enough, in those polls, you see exactly what you just described, which is, there’s more uncertainty among students of color than there is among the general polling pop. for likelihood to return to the same institution or whether or not there’s certainty in doing so, so that’s been reflecting in those numbers for sure. We’re turning specifically to the question of George Floyd and all of the protesting conversations that have happened in the last few weeks as a result. I’ve been thinking a lot about how schools need to get ready for this and… I don’t know, I’m gonna throw this out there. Tell me what you think of this. I think that if someone was to ask me, “What do I gotta do to get my campus ready for the fall?” I think that you already have plans in place for student protests and demonstrations and things along those lines, you kinda know how to deal with that stuff because you’re a college campus, this is what students do in a lot of places.
15:31 EV: I think the conversation or the step that’s not being taken yet, or maybe is now just starting to be taken by leaders and is long, long overdue, is a really good hard look in the mirror, looking for instances where, “Hey, we didn’t try to be racist here, this is just the way that the campus is, but we can fix this.” So looking at, say, the demographic make-up of the faculty versus the students, if there’s a big gap here, this should be addressed, because if our faculty are 80 to 90% white and our students are more like 50% white, then that’s a mismatch. That’s half of our population potentially seeing something or having an environment where they might not feel as comfortable learning or feel like they’re being treated in a way that is equitable by their teachers. That’s just one example, but it just strikes me, this is a moment in time where campus leaders can no longer kick that can down the road, they can’t ignore the issue, they can’t hide and say, “Hey, we’re supposed to be sort of more liberal, forward thinking places, like surely, this doesn’t happen here.” No, it happens everywhere, it happens in your place too, and so you need to take a look at it, and this is the moment in time to do it. I don’t know what you think about that, but,back to you.
16:45 MF: Yeah, no, I wholeheartedly agree. One of the things I would say, the fact that we’re even hearing and having these conversation of… Conversations about race, is because there was a quieting of our society that happened, that we could actually hear and see and take in what was happening within our larger nation, and so with that, right, it has given us the opportunity to look in a deeper way at what we’re doing across our institutions, so already folks are talking about the de-funding and work there with the police, but then very quickly, we had a conversation where we pivoted, institutionally, “Where do we need to go, where do these higher education leaders need to take us?” And one of the biggest components that has been talked about for a number of years, but really is starting to get more and more footing is about belongingness.
17:43 MF: And I think that’s something that we really have to, within the higher education space, take on, because if a student comes on, and to your point, Ed, if they don’t see representation within the faculty, if they can’t share or talk about their lived experiences in the classroom, if they don’t even see themselves marketed on in the marketing materials or even show them as a… See others on-campus that look like them, we’re really diminishing the experience for them and we’re really kind of showing, whether intentionally or not, we’re basically lowering and saying that we don’t think that it matters to have representation where everything and research would tell us otherwise. So I think I am very kind of excited and reinvigorated because it sounds like more folks are taking a look at that, not only within higher education, but also in other institutions within the fabric of our nation, and I think that’s a very overdue and important conversation for us to have.
18:51 EV: Yeah, it feels like a moment in time where there was a lot of pent-up demand to have the conversation, then we had a catalyzing moment and now it’s all coming out now, and we’re all talking about things that, like you just said, it’s long overdue for these conversations to have happen. And I just… I would encourage any campus leaders that are listening right now, this is uncomfortable stuff, but the mantra of the day is, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, so to speak, and you have a responsibility as leaders of your institutions to take a good hard look at yourself and say, “Are we actually offering an equitable experience for our students from a community standpoint, a culture standpoint, or not?”
19:32 EV: And it doesn’t have to be deliberately racist to be racist, if that makes sense? It just has to be creating an inequitable environment for students. And there’s just some really tough conversations that have to happen, but once you have them, they become easier and easier and things do get better. But that’s something about the campus culture angles. You touched on belongingness, and I’m a big fan, I’m gonna just pitch in here for the Nevada-Reno FIT program. They have a… For those who don’t know, we profiled this in a couple of our materials. Our colleague David Bevevino did a great write-up of this. But essentially in Nevada-Reno in order to build belongingness on campus has a one-week pre-college program where about half the students do this and they come in and do a one credit pass-fail math class.
20:27 EV: It’s aligned to whatever they plan to major in. But it’s basically no risk. If you don’t pass the class, you just don’t get that credit, but it gives you an opportunity in that week to get on campus and all the butterflies in your stomach start to settle down and you know your roommate and you can try out what it’s like to take a test in college without having to worry about the grade so much. And sure enough, they found that when you look at retention rates for the students who participate in the program, equity gaps are virtually eliminated across all different groups. I think that they looked at first-gen, Pell, and Latinx compared to their baseline population and found that across the board, those retention rates were all pretty much equal. So the notion here is that by giving students a chance to come in and practice, they build a lot of confidence and they also build connections with other students. They get mentors, they get connected to other services around campus. I just think it’s a really great program.
21:27 MF: And remind me Ed, because I think this is an important piece, because for many, especially in the minoritized communities, you’ve seen these pre-college access programs specifically geared towards you, but Nevada-FIT benefit is different in kind because it’s available to everyone. Is that right?
21:43 EV: Yeah, that’s a really key important part of it, because students know what’s up. If you’re being… If you show up for a pre-college program and you look around and you say, “Okay, I understand how we were all recruited to this,” it may not… It may actually be counter-productive in the development of confidence and belongingness because you’ve essentially been singled out. And something like FIT, being that it is half the campus does this and it’s entirely voluntary, I do think it normalizes it quite a bit in the sense that it’s now like, “No, no, this is just the first year of college. We’re just getting going a little early.” So I think that’s important. I also wanna turn to one other thing about belongingness on campus, and that’s… We’ve done a lot of work on flash points.
22:27 EV: For those of you who don’t know, a flash point is when you have an incident on campus. And we’ve had so many of those over the last few years. Schools have been a little bit flat-footed to respond to them, others have been better. So one of the things that we’ve written on recently has been how to essentially prepare, like you would prepare for any bad thing that might happen on your campus. Imagine preparing for a natural disaster, well, you have a plan in place for that. You should also have a plan in place for this stuff, especially going into… Hey, it’s an election year. We’ve got all this stuff going on. The chances of you having something happen on your campus are non-zero, but you need to get ready for it. And Meacie, you and I have talked about this in the past because you’ve had some experiences that didn’t make you feel all that terribly comfortable on your campus, and we’re not gonna name names obviously, but…
23:15 MF: Sure.
23:15 EV: Maybe you could underscore the importance of having those contingency plans or those flash point action plans in place. So should something happen, very unfortunate, but should something happen, you can respond really well, and why your students might see that as very important.
23:30 MF: Oh, absolutely. Even though the incident that happened at my first school is now almost 25 years ago, it’s still pretty much in the forefront of my mind because the response by the institution was less than lacking. And there’s a sense that when you… Folks, when we’re in the beginning of getting more diverse students on campus, and a lot of it was focused on access, so rightly so there wasn’t the equity and inclusion that needs to happen there. But when you get it wrong, as they did at the institution I had attended at that time, there was a great deal of us who left after that initial fall semester. And so you can’t also say… And I think this is another key piece to talk about, when we talk about what leaders can do, and folks have been pushing back in this space, just in recent weeks as folks have been coming out and supporting Black Lives Matter is, “Okay, now you have the words are out there. But what are the actions?”
24:35 MF: And to Ed’s point, how do we make sure that we kind of have that invention response team? We know how to respond to flash points. But then there’s also the piece of, this is going to be… And there’s been enough conversation out there that this is going to be the new majority. So how do we educate ourselves to make sure that we can support these students, and it doesn’t necessarily just have to be this specific programming, but we… When we talk about equity and I think it’s a good place to reiterate that, that’s… We’re making sure that regardless of race, income, gender, everyone has equal chance to succeed on campus. And we just have to make sure that the right supports are in place and that leaders are removing those barriers to full participation.
25:19 EV: Yeah. It’s very important, especially now as our student body breakdowns are shifting. I was looking the other day at my own home institution and looking at the demographic breakdown of the incoming class, and it’s 60% either students of color or international. International being about 10%. And so it’s a very mixed campus now, as far as who’s attending. This was not the case when I was there, which was a very long time ago, but… Almost 25 years. We’re about the same age.
25:50 MF: Yeah.
25:52 EV: So things have changed in that regard, and I think one of the things that’s interesting that comes along with that is the generational attitudes writ large for Gen-Z about these issues. I recall you were talking about being uncomfortable when there was a flash point incident on your campus and how a lot of students of color left as a result. I think if you fast forward to 2020 and such things happen, you’re gonna lose students of all ilks because they all care deeply about this issue and if they’re… Regardless of who they are… Well, I’m struck ’cause I remember this one anecdote I read earlier this year about a school that was having some issues. And there was a tour and a high school student was there and the student was hearing about what was going on and they told the reporter, “I just don’t know if this campus is for me,” and that student was white.
26:47 EV: So it just underscores the importance that for the entire Gen-Z population, not only is it far more diverse than any populations we’ve had coming in before, where you… Sorry, should I say class years we’ve had coming in before, but also the attitudes of these students are going to be far more, regardless of who they are, expecting that you as the campus know how to do this. Or that this is important to you. Or that they’ll be very turned off if you don’t do this correctly. And that’s not something I think we would have expected years ago. So that’s a big change. There’s one last question I wanna bring up here. And the reason why I bring it up is I know that you and I have different views. So I’m wondering if we can close out with a little mini debate. I think you might already be knowing where I’m going with this.
27:31 MF: I might.
27:33 EV: So we’ve talked about why schools need to pay attention to equity and why schools need to be paying attention to student success. And we’ve talked about that in different ways over time. But you know that I think that there’s quite a bit of alignment between two of the motivating factors for here. We all can agree that graduating students is the right thing to do, and we can all agree that having equitable outcomes at our institution is the right thing to do. Nobody’s gonna argue against that. But the big question is, why has it not happened? Why we’ve been slow to change and what can we do to accelerate that? And I think that there’s a market force at play here. The more students… The more we become dependent upon student tuition dollars, the more we need to be looking at every possible way to preserve enrollment. And if you see our equity gaps as also a enrollment problem in the sense that you’re losing students, then you have double motivation. Now, you have a different view of this because… Well, go ahead and explain to your viewpoint as well on this and we can talk about it back and forth a little bit.
28:33 MF: Yeah. And let me know if this is the same place where it’s been because, I don’t know, over these last few weeks, things have shifted and I’ve thought about things in deeper and new ways. But I tend to think about it in terms of leadership. I tend to think of who do we have at the table who are making these decisions and do they understand our communities? I think of… I think it’s the… Was it the AASCU president, Dr. Mildred Garcia, who many of her and her colleagues share learned experiences, whether they’re first-gen, whether they came from a poor background or were low income. And so they already have this lens of which to view the world and to recognize when things are inequitable. So that’s where I tend to go in terms of what has to happen, because we’ve seen the change. We’ve seen the numbers go up in certain ways and some ways go down in terms of participations across black, Latinx and native communities and on our college campuses, but it still hasn’t changed. And for me, the larger change is that the folks who are at the top who are making the decisions don’t represent the students whom they serve.
29:50 EV: Yeah, I think the… We both have philosophies that at least are logically valid. You can choose to ascribe to one, the other, or both. They both have weaknesses, of course. The ickiness of the way I’m approaching this is that we hate to commoditize students. These are real lives that we’re talking about. And I think the weakness on what you’re talking about is, “Well, if it’s been about leadership then why hasn’t it happened yet?” It’s always been about leadership. So are we now more motivated? Maybe. I hope so. Are we now more motivated from this bottoms-up approach like I’m talking about where, “Hey, we need to worry about the financial health of the institution,” and that’s going to cause us to pay more attention to student success than ever before? Maybe, hopefully. Hopefully all the above.
30:35 EV: I do agree with you very much so that this is a moment for leadership. This is a challenge… This has probably been the most challenging year for higher education leadership that I can remember, at least certainly in the last decade since the onset of the recession. So if you are not prepared for or ready for this challenge, then probably you need to get so. But this is a real moment to shine. If you’re ready to step up, this is an opportunity to really change your campuses.
31:03 MF: Yeah. And I would add, this is tough. None of us can go at this alone. And I wanna reiterate that, because we have to get plugged in… We know that there’s issues with funding. We know that it’s gonna be tighter across the board in terms of what folks are able to spend and how they’re gonna contain their costs. But I think the larger play here and the larger conversation has to be, how do we engage our employers? How do we engage our alumni? How do we engage our community partners in this larger change we seek to have within our higher education institutions?
31:39 EV: Yeah. And that’s a really interesting point there too, because you just said, community partners, employers, people outside the campus. This is something that should become much more of a community-oriented issue. If equity gaps continue to exist and we continue to need more college-educated workers, then there’s a natural moment for employers to step in and say, “Hey, y’all gotta fix this because we need more graduates and we need diverse graduates because that’s who we’re trying to hire.” So there is a moment in time where something can… It’s only really started to happen can now happen in greater amounts, which is employers sticking their necks into the higher education space in a good way. Providing funding and providing encouragement to institutions to close these gaps and to get this problem fixed in that regard.
32:34 EV: So there’s maybe another factor in play here that could be an interesting motivating factor for what could motivate change in the future. So we got kind of the moral imperative. It’s the topic of the time. We’ve got the… There’s a leadership moment. We’ve got the economic factors. And then we’ve got, I guess, other economic factors, meaning the supply and demand of the labor market may compel schools to improve here. I’m sure there’s many others, but they all point in the same direction, which is you have to fix this problem. It’s the right thing to do for so many different reasons and this is certainly the right time. Wonder if we could close up with just a couple of quick recommendations for things schools could do this fall. I think you’re not jotted down a few, what we would consider to be outcomes. Do you wanna share a few of what you… You had jotted on a few and then I’ll fill in maybe one or two?
33:21 MF: Yeah, so the one thing I would say is define equity for your campus. So what does that mean for you? Whether you’re an HBCU, a PWI, just whatever that may mean, you need to have clear understanding of what you’re trying to move and where you’re trying to move the needle. And then the other thing I would say is, address belongingness or the bias that you inherently have on your campus. The one thing we would note is that… And this is normally where some of that comes up, would be the campus climate assessments. We know that folks don’t do those often enough, and there aren’t pointed enough questions for them to figure out and to fix what’s going on there. So I think there’s a larger need for folks to dig in and to really understand their campus and the ways it may be turning students away.
34:14 EV: My one that I would add… Well, I completely agree with that one for sure. The other thing I would add would be, you gotta start counting. If you are looking at your continuing student enrollment numbers and doing year over year comparisons, that’s good. You should be doing that. I would strongly encourage you, if you have the ability to do splits on those numbers, you can see what continuing student enrollment is for your different student groups, so you can spot whether or not you do actually have an expanding equity gap for this fall based in the way registration numbers, to the extent that we can trust them look right now, because… ‘Cause you might find one of two things. Well, you might find a bunch of things. One, you might find that this problem is actually much worse than you might have guessed. Or maybe it’s not, but an even better outcome would be to find more nuance about where your issues might be.
35:04 EV: Is it with our black students? Is with our Latinx students? Is it more with our rural students or Pell eligible students? Where do we see our biggest gaps, because that will be where you can focus your attention over the next few months, specifically along whatever lines those might be. But you don’t know any of this stuff unless you actually pull the numbers and review them, and I’ve talked to an unfortunate number schools that haven’t done that work. So we strongly encourage you to do that if you haven’t already. If you’re pulling continuous student numbers, try to break them down across your equity lines, just so you can see those gaps that may or may not be emerging and focus your efforts that way. Do you have any other ones to add?
35:46 MF: Well, the only thing I would say, it’s a larger kind of engagement within the classroom. So if folks are still kind of moving or gonna stay in that virtual or hybrid virtual in the fall, I think they have to be very clear about how students can engage and be plugged in. There’s been a lot of conversations in the space where students are kind of saying, “Well, what is this environment and how can I have the student experience online?” That’s gonna be even more critical for students of color because they are gonna need a bigger sense of being plugged in here in ways that they maybe haven’t been plugged in on the campus, so I would say to invest there. Whatever those learning communities are, however they can still do a bit of research. The internships or the service learning, I think those are important components that will help stay students plugged in and engaged.
36:39 EV: I think that’s probably a good note to end on it right there. So I wanna thank everybody for listening today. Once again, I’m Ed Venit.
36:47 MF: And I’m Meacie Fairfax.
36:49 EV: And we were delighted to have been able to have this conversation with each other. As you can tell, we work together pretty closely on these sort of things so it’s always fun to chat with you, Meacie, about this.
36:57 MF: Same with you, Ed.
37:00 EV: Hopefully giving everybody a little window into our chats will move their dial a little bit or at least get them a little bit motivated around continuing students and specifically around equity gaps for this fall. So once again, thank you very much and have a great day.
37:16 MF: Thank you.
37:23 MP: Thanks for listening. Join us next week when two close friends and colleagues, Melanie Ho and Carla Hickman from EAB, talk through the five mistakes university leaders should avoid when handling our ongoing health crisis. Until then, I’m Matt Pellish for Office Hours with EAB.
"Students weren’t so confident in the COVID-19 response of their campus leaders, and now folks are wondering ‘how are they going to address the racial strife, the health of our community when we do come back?’"
"We need to acknowledge, even if the students show up on campus, are they ready to learn?"
"You have a responsibility as a leader of your institution to take a good hard look at yourself and say ‘are we actually offering an equitable experience for our students?"
"The larger conversation has to be: how do engage our employers, how do we engage our alumni, how do we engage our community partners in this larger change we seek to have within our higher education institutions?"
Next, explore these related resources
Discover a curated collection of EAB's resources to promote equity in education through eliminating policies, practices, and attitudes that perpetuate disparities in outcomes.
How will COVID-19 shape equity gaps? Here's what four early indicators can tell us. Plus, see recommended responses for colleges and universities.