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Diversity & Inclusion

5 Keys to a More Student-Equity-Centric Future in Higher Ed

A new white paper out of the University of Utah's Sorenson Impact Center outlines five ways to move higher education toward a student-equity-centric future. The Center, an academic "think-and-do tank" focused on solving problems through data and innovation, convened students, researchers, practitioners and institutional leaders to identify key issues in higher ed through the lens of student equity. The effort is part of the Center's MAPS Project, the same initiative that recently created a data dashboard tracking the impact of COVID-19 on higher ed.   

"Student-equity-centric" was defined as the practice of putting equitable outcomes for students at the center of decision-making. The concept of equity can apply to an individual student's experience, an institution's practices and policies, and the broader population's access to opportunities, resources and outcomes, the report noted. The paper offered five essentials for making higher ed more student-equity-centric:

1) "Student-equity-centric decision-making in higher education requires integrated quantitative and qualitative data that are contextualized with diverse student perspectives, well beyond what currently practiced." Current data analysis often overlooks the "lived experiences" of students, the report asserted — particularly those of historically marginalized groups.  

2) "Student-equity-centric institutions employ an assets-based view of students and demonstrate authenticity, transparency and accountability, especially in times of crisis." Students want institutions to be transparent about how decisions are made — both in times of transition and during business as usual, the report said.

3) "Student-equity-centric institutions will design for post-traditional students as the new norm, rather than the exception." The report highlighted the diversity of today's college students, who have "complex lives and interact with higher education across a longer, more modular timeline than previous generations."

4) "Student-equity-centric institutions build cross-institution and cross-industry collaborations, as adaptive or proactive responses, to serve students' dynamic needs." Rather than focusing on recruitment strategies and competitive advantage, colleges and universities should "consider how to elevate student success across institutions and make it easier for students to navigate the system of higher education as a whole," the report said.

5) "The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the role of institutions of higher education as anchor institutions that provide critical health, transportation and economic support, despite uncertainty around public investment in higher education." The report pointed out that the pandemic has revealed (and exacerbated) numerous prerequisites for student success in higher education: access to healthy food, high-quality child care, affordable healthcare, high-speed internet, reliable transportation, quiet study space, safe housing, mental health supports, social and professional networks, and other resources. Supporting those needs is imperative to preserve equitable access to higher education.

The full report, "Five Themes for Centering Student Equity," is available on the Sorenson Impact Center site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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