Institutional Responsibility for Student Success

Chair, Equity and Diversity Action Committee

A year ago, delegates to the Fall 2005 Academic Senate for California Community Colleges passed Resolution F05 20.02, which asked for breakout sessions focusing on the experiences of community colleges that had participated in projects that examined issues of student equity, retention, and success. One of those projects was Equity for All, a comprehensive approach to student success. At the Fall 2006 Plenary session, Frank Harris III and Lindsey alcom from the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California and Carolyn Russell, a faculty member from Rio Hondo College, and Hannah Alford, a research analyst from Long Beach City College, participated in a discussion on their experiences.

While almost all California community colleges have turned in their Student Equity Plans to the System Office, nine community colleges went a step farther, participating in Equity for All, which is sponsored by the Lumina Foundation for Education, the System Office, and endorsed by Academic Senate. The nine colleges had to meet specific criteria: a 25% or greater percentage of enrolled Latino/a students, an enrollment of African American students that exceeded the community college system wide average of 7%, an enrollment of Native American students exceeding the system wide average of 1%, and a total enrollment of non-Caucasian students of 50% or more. The partner colleges were Los Angeles Southwest, Mt. San Antonio, Long Beach City, Rio Hondo, Merritt, Alameda, De Anza, Hartnell, and San Joaquin Delta.

Each college had a campus team appointed by its president. The teams were comprised of a diverse group of personnel, including a staff member from institutional research. Members met at least once a month with teams from the Center for Urban Education.

The Equity for All process has several elements that set it apart from the Student Equity Plan process. First, and perhaps the most critical aspect to the Equity for All approach, is its unique use of an Inquiry Paradigm, as opposed to the usual Data Paradigm. In the Data Paradigm, members of a campus community would presumably examine the data, see gaps or inequities in educational outcomes for different groups of students, and derive solutions or best practices. For example, if a college had data regarding student outcomes in their math courses and discovered that African American students had inequitable outcomes in their basic skills math courses, one solution might be the formation of a learning community addressing what would be perceived as the students' learning problems.

However, using the Inquiry Paradigm, the Equity for All campus teams looked at the data, found the gaps or inequities, then inquired into the causes, tried to develop informed solutions, and then evaluated the success of their implemented solutions. In this method, if the student outcomes in math courses revealed that African American students had inequitable outcomes in their basic skills math courses, the math faculty members would try to identify the causes of the inequities, using a variety of methods, such as student interviews and a study of instructional practices, which focused on the practitioners' learning problems. Once the causes are identified, solutions to address the causes are developed and then can be evaluated once they are implemented to see if they worked.

Another unique element to Equity for All is the learning goals for the campus teams.

Those participating in the project would develop an awareness of race-based inequalities in educational outcomes.

Moreover, through the lens of equity, they would learn to interpret race-based disparities in educational outcomes. Finally, participants would learn to view inequalities in outcomes as an institutional issue calling for accountability, communal responsibility, and action. In other words, student success becomes an institutional responsibility.

A third unique feature of the Equity for All approach is the Equity Scorecard Framework. The campus teams viewed their student data through four different lenses and defined what would be equitable educational outcomes for their institution.

Academic Pathways focused on how students progress through an institution, such as, successfully moving from basic skill to transfer-level math and English or achieving their stated educational goals.

Teams also examined data regarding transfer readiness and retention and persistence. And finally, they considered data on excellence, examining students who were doing well.

As the participants at the breakout acknowledged, the process itself played a crucial role as each campus team came together. They understood the significance of what they had discovered and in some instances were able to use data to begin strategic planning and to document the need for resources. Each of the colleges found its own individual way to begin to address students' success, reminding us that many solutions are indeed local.