Acknowledging the ways we’ve fallen short
Charles Prince, Ed. D., Research Strategic Leader
Colleges and universities are grappling with their role perpetuating social inequality. How do you bring your past experiences to bear on the institutions you’re advising today?
Prior to working as a strategic advisor to college and university leaders at EAB, I was the first director of the center for student success at a university in London, and only one of two in the country; the idea of student success was still nascent in the UK.
With a mandate from the British government, I conducted a series of data collections to identify equity gaps in the data—cutting across not just race and gender, but other dimensions like the Traveller population, mental health, and disability—and determined ways to narrow those gaps. I was also responsible for graduate outcomes: my job was to merge academic affairs and administration with career services. We looked at students 6 months after they graduated to see where who was getting jobs and who wasn’t.
Now at EAB, I’m helping US institutions think about equity in the same way. Beyond race, gender, and socioeconomic status, what are we doing about disability, mental health, and other equity gaps? How can we approach policies and interventions with an equity lens? These are important questions especially given the current political, social and economic environments. Equity is now an occupational necessity for success.
For example, now that everyone had to go test-optional, colleges and universities are having a conversation that has previously been taboo: are SATs and ACTs actually a predictor of success? Because we know they’re not. And we’ve made this argument many times, but unfortunately, it took the pandemic to force institutions to make the switch for safety reasons. Rather than asking as a culture, or from a policy perspective, are we providing access to students in the right way?
What advice would you give to institutions committed to building a more equitable campus?
There is no silver bullet in getting this right. But it is about where you’re willing to spend your time and have difficult conversations. Once you collect your data, you have to go through stages of reflection. Sit with the disparities in the data and acknowledge what it says about your institution. You must accept the fact that you built a culture that doesn’t allow people outside of the mainstream to succeed. For example, if women are leaving your STEM programs, recognize that you’ve done something wrong on behalf of women.
No one wants to admit that they’ve done something wrong.
There’s a sense in education that we’re delivering a social good, so you have to keep it that way. But to do this work, you’ve got to recognize that you’ve got skeletons within the organization. You must accept it and make it right.
That might mean new staff, or sunsetting old programs. That might mean rethinking your admissions process. They’re not radical changes, they’re just changes. Our world is changing, so why not change with it instead of changing in response to it?