During the Powered by Publics 2022 Annual Meeting, a panel of institutional leaders discussed “Building Momentum for Equity in a Changing World.” The purpose of the panel was to inspire participants to reflect on inequitable policies and processes that could be redesigned to improve outcomes and act to advance equity on campus. In addition, the panel motivated attendees to think creatively about how to engage students, understand their perspectives, and provide venues for students to participate in decision-making. Panelists showcased actionable strategies for creating an environment in which student voices (lived experiences) are incorporated effectively and often to inform university-wide change efforts. They also reflected on experiences with Powered by Publics, the Intermediaries for Scale cohort, and participation in Equity Roundtable events, in addition to highlights from their institution’s own transformation journey. The session was moderated by Gregory Thornton, Associate Director, Center for Public University Transformation, at the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities.
Ms. Rita Conley, Director of Student Success, Division of Enrollment Management and Student Success, at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (PxP Southern Cluster), shared her experiences in working to increase student success outcomes and close equity gaps. She began by explaining that while she couldn't solve all the problems, she was honest about what she could and could not do. Rita stated that the work is hard and that they don't win all the time, but they win many of them, and that is why they do it!
She then shared a poignant anecdote about a student named Kyle, who revealed in an Equity Roundtable discussion that he felt he didn't belong. Rita was shocked to hear this as she believed him to be the epitome of a perfect student. However, Kyle shared that he had a hard time fitting in and finding his tribe. This realization made Rita motivated to try to do more to help students and to create a variety of experiences for all students, opportunities for them to find other students.
Rita also highlighted the assistance she received from APLU. She shared that she was part of a model program, which provided funds to work on a team and figure out how to increase graduation rates. She stated that while she couldn't say that the program was the reason why graduation rates went up, there was a correlation between the program's implementation in 2016 and the increase in graduation rates. Rita emphasized that the program was small and incremental, but it worked.
She also highlighted the importance of persistence and continuous effort in addressing equity gaps, creating opportunities for students to find their community, and seeking out assistance and support from other organizations like APLU. She also emphasized the importance of being honest about limitations while also being an advocate for the students.
Dr. @Patrick Turner-NMSU, Associate Provost for Student Success and Director of First-Year Initiatives at New Mexico State University (PxP Western Land-Grant Cluster), shared his experience working in higher education over the last 25 years. He emphasized that the reason he loves working in higher education is for the students, as he sees himself in many of them. He has worked at multiple institutions and has seen different populations of students with different circumstances, and responsibilities. However, he noted they all have one thing in common: desire to be the best version of themselves. He also discussed the disconnect between the institution's vision and the students' (and families') ideas of success.
Patrick shared that his personal experience of being raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood and how an instructor and a professor took him under their wing and told him he would be the best version of himself. He also mentioned his work in TRiO, Disability Services, and Veterans’ Services and how listening to students' stories and lived experiences moved him to want to do more for the students. He emphasized that the faculty and staff in higher education are not in the job to make millions of dollars but to help students reach their full potential. He highlighted the importance of creating an environment of belongingness for students, where they feel that they are a part of the institution and that the institution cares about their success.
He also touched on the importance of the student experience, comparing it to the customer experience at Disney. He emphasized that institutions should be thinking about the interactions students have with them from the moment they look up the institution on the website, to the moment they walk onto the campus, to the moment they encounter financial aid and academic advisors. He stressed that institutions should be thinking about how to create a positive and memorable experience for students. He also highlighted the importance of seeking out populations of students that institutions typically do not talk to, such as students who have left and didn't come back, in order to understand why they did not stay. By understanding the reasons why these students left, institutions can take steps to improve the student experience and retain more students. Patrick encouraged institutions to take a holistic approach to the student experience, considering all aspects of their engagement with the institution, including academic, social, and emotional well-being. He also emphasized the need to provide a sense of belongingness and community, and to create opportunities for students to find their tribe and connect with others who share similar interests and backgrounds. He also noted that this approach should be geared towards creating a culture of equity and inclusivity, where all students feel supported and valued. By taking these steps, institutions can help students feel more connected to the institution and more motivated to succeed, ultimately improving their retention rates and closing the equity gap.
Dr. @Bridget Trogden, Associate Dean for Engagement & General Education and Professor, Department of Engineering & Science Education at Clemson University (PxP South Eastern Cluster) shared her experience as part of the Intermediaries for Scale initiative as part of Powered by Publics. She discussed the Institutional Transformation Assessment (ITA), which was deployed to multiple members of cross-institutional units to gauge their experiences with the institution’s strengths and areas of opportunity. She highlighted a few areas where Clemson stakeholders indicated they could improve education, equity, and data sharing. She also talked about the importance of having clear shared definitions of disparities faced by different groups of students and issues with advising, in that institutions do not always have consistently used definitions of equity and how they were supporting these students.
Bridget addressed the question of how to focus on equitable student success, with strategies tied to data disaggregation tactics, pointing back to what Patrick discussed around equity allowing focus on particular areas. She emphasized the importance of separating data based on student identities, backgrounds, and intersectionality and of collecting qualitative data to understand students’ lived experiences. She shared the importance of inclusive teaching and shared some of the data she gathered from focus groups with her colleagues and department chairs.
Bridget also highlighted the importance of cross-institutional collaboration and how it can be used to address issues of equity and student success. She emphasized that institutions need to work together to share best practices and find solutions to common problems. She also stressed the need for institutions to take a holistic approach to addressing equity and student success, and to not just focus on one aspect of the problem. For example, gateway courses are often stumbling blocks for students. Improvements can focus on many things, including content, assessment practices, policies, classroom climate, and metacognition. Getting the data from those who have it into the hands of those who can make change is key.
In conclusion, she emphasized that it is important to be honest about the data and use it to drive change. Connecting different efforts – like Clemson’s Powered by Publics initiatives with teams leading HHMI Driving Change initiatives, incorporation of new ABET standards, and task forces for specific problems – helps to support and connect the work for sustainability and impact.
Moderated Q & A
Rita was asked how Historically Black Universities (HBCUs) like UAPB define equity differently than other universities. She explained that at HBCUs, race is not typically an issue as the institution is majority African American. However, they do focus on other issues such as first-generation students, single parents, geographical regions, gender, sexual orientation, and low SAT/ACT scores. To address these issues, UAPB uses predictive analytics to identify students who may struggle academically and provide them with targeted support. Additionally, UAPB has programs in place to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with low SAT/ACT scores.
Patrick was asked about the themes and things he learned from the students at the first Equity Roundtable event. Patrick shared that it was a very enlightening conversation and that several institutions participated. He emphasized the importance of listening to the voices of the students and that some of the most obvious or profound things the students talked about was inclusive teaching. He pointed out that universities often put a lot of weight on Student Affairs to add more services but often don't take into account the impact of teaching and learning in the classroom. He also mentioned that the students talked about a sense of belonging and the importance of creating an inclusive and welcoming environment.
Rita then shared her experience leading the UAPB-hosted Equity Roundtable. She retold how one student shared that he felt like he didn't belong, which surprised her as she believed him to be the epitome of a successful student. This realization motivated her to do more to create opportunities for students to find their community and feel a sense of belonging. Rita also highlighted the assistance she received from APLU through a model program focused on increasing graduation rates and the importance of persistence and collaboration in addressing equity gaps and supporting student success.
Bridget was asked about the ‘secret sauce’ for supporting transfer student success as part of Clemson’s PxP cluster work. Noting that transfer is an equity issue, she highlighted the importance of transparency and articulation agreements between institutions, as well as the effective use of advisors and resources to support transfer students. She also emphasized the need for faculty collaboration across institutions to address knowledge gaps, improve course design, and align learning outcomes, as faculty are often not part of transfer student strategies. Again, disaggregating data provides institutions with a better view of where gaps exist and mitigation strategies can be pursued.
To close the session, the panel of institutional leaders was asked to provide some advice to colleagues who are discouraged by the challenge of closing equity gaps that lie ahead. They discussed the importance of collaboration and finding like-minded individuals in the fight for equity.
Patrick emphasized the importance of collaboration in closing equity gaps. He notes that the last two years have shown that when people work together, they are able to achieve things that they thought were impossible. However, he also notes that he is starting to see a drift back into old behaviors and encourages his colleagues to find those who are motivated and believe in student retention and equity. He suggests that they should draw strength from these people and continue to collaborate with different groups like APLU.
Bridget advised her colleagues to focus on having conversations that allow them to examine their own biases and move forward. She emphasizes that implicit biases are learned behaviors that can be unlearned through humility and honesty.
Rita advised her colleagues to look for quick wins and low-hanging fruit that can have a big impact on the success of their students. She encourages her colleagues to publicize these wins and to talk about them to create momentum for positive change.
The Building Momentum for Equity in a Changing World panel emphasized the value of collaboration, persistence, and student voices in shaping equitable policies and practices. This session reinforced the notion that determination and collaboration are crucial in overcoming challenges toward equity in higher education. By fostering open conversations and remaining committed to student success, institutions can create a more inclusive environment.