Early last month, Powered by Publics hosted its 2021 Annual Meeting with more than 100 attendees who collaborated in peer-led conversations in the Powered by Publics Learning Hub areas of Affordability, Teaching and Learning, and Holistic Student Supports. These conversations featured the work of 2-3 transformation clusters. For those who couldn’t attend, key takeaways and insights from each peer-led session are summarized below:
The pandemic has created a window for universities to change their operations to better serve students. To address the pandemic’s substantial financial impact on students, federal COVID relief money has enabled institutions to innovate to directly benefit students who need additional resources. Many institutions are now examining ways to sustain these efforts, and address equity gaps that have only been compounded by the pandemic. Employing a holistic approach to college affordability is essential to helping students from low-income backgrounds get across the finish line and addressing inequities on campus.
Institutions are increasingly looking at affordability through a wider lens. This includes efforts to increase students’ financial literacy so they can better understand the scale of an investment in college and the affordability or accessibility of learning materials.
Tracking the impact of COVID financial relief – and affordability efforts writ large – on retention and completion rates will be key to addressing equity gaps head-on. This multipronged approach can enable institutions to create a new and larger value proposition for students.
Teaching and Learning
Many institutions have adopted predictive analytics platforms allowing institutions to target students who may need additional help. But it’s important to use such platforms fairly and thoughtfully to ensure that students aren’t guided away from majors they may thrive in with appropriate supports.
Ultimately, though, faculty have the greatest potential to address equity gaps through their instruction. That’s why it’s so important for institutions to establish a culture where every faculty and staff member feels that achieving equity is a key responsibility. Effective strategies for driving this culture include inviting faculty to tackle these issues with a sense of curiosity, peer-to-peer conversations led by faculty who are champions for equity, and taking a listen-first approach to sessions with faculty who may view efforts to address equity gaps more skeptically. Some institutions may also wish to create incentives that underscore to faculty that equity work is deeply valued.
Holistic Student Supports
Tackling system-wide inequities can be a daunting task, but using a continuous improvement framework is one effective way to move the needle on equity. When breaking down one larger issue into its components, institutions can make more manageable changes as part of an ongoing effort to tear down barriers leading to inequitable outcomes. Advising, for instance, is a widely shared student challenge even for institutions with vastly different approaches to advising students. Using advising as a driver of student success, institutions can consider how to coordinate advising – including financial, academic, and career – across campus to have the greatest positive impact on students.
Cultivating student belonging is another opportunity for increasing student success and addressing inequities. Doing so for first-generation and transfer students requires deep institutional commitment and investment in resources that empower student success. Meeting these students’ needs requires different approaches. For transfer students, for example, admissions and academic advising offices are key to enabling a smooth application and enrollment process, as are mentors for transfer students once they are on campus. For first-generation students, building connections with middle and high schools can help attract more students to enroll with the preparation they need to succeed. Summer bridge programs can help students overcome challenges in the transition to college. For all students, living-learning communities or First-Year Experience learning communities can help students find a sense of community. Celebrating the achievements of transfer and first-generation students can also acknowledge what students have achieved and make clear that they are not alone on campus.