Center for Urban Education focuses on equity
Select faculty, staff and administrators from 11 California community colleges and key policy stakeholders gathered at the Center for Urban Education’s Equity & Student Success Symposium in early June for an unprecedented opportunity to come together and share strategies around using data to improve outcomes for underrepresented students of color, despite increasingly scarce resources.
As state budget cuts slash funding for community colleges, many institutions are forced to reduce the number and types of courses available and turn away thousands of prospective students who have no other entry point into higher education. These responses will be felt most sharply by minority populations, who make up a near half of all community college students statewide.
For instance, the number of Latina and Latino students enrolled in California community colleges is more than double the size of the entire University of California (UC) student population; and the African American community college student population is more than that of the three largest UC campuses combined. Given the already significant disparities in transfer and completion rates between minority students and their white peers, concrete plans for addressing these inequities in an actionable manner are vital.
Over the past six months, the Center for Urban Education, which is based at the USC Rossier School of Education, has worked with community colleges around the state to improve racial/ethnic equity through a series of workshops funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The workshops provide an opportunity for college practitioners to set concrete goals using institutional data disaggregated by race and ethnicity.
By analyzing this data using the center’s Benchmarking Equity and Student Success Tool™ (BESST), the workshops can make informed decisions about how to allocate scarce institutional resources to produce better academic outcomes. These data-based, equity driven decisions and recommendations then can be included in their basic skills action plans, federal grant proposals or other planning and goal-setting documents.
“We wanted to give workshop participants an opportunity to learn about the successes and struggles of their colleagues in using student data to make decisions and keep equity on the table,” said the center’s co-director and USC Rossier School of Education associate professor Alicia C. Dowd.
A morning panel of leaders from Santa Ana College, Los Medanos College and Diablo Valley College moderated by Dowd described how the BESST™ has provided a concrete language with which they can raise important, though contentious, issues of equity. As Karl Debro, coordinator for the Advancement Via Individual Determination program, put it, “Data gives us a language for topics we’re afraid to talk about any other way. It allows us to engage in real equity talk.”
Sara Lundquist, vice president at Santa Ana College, stressed the importance of collective leadership in ensuring that student success goals are both achievable and equitable.
“We [at Santa Ana College] are not looking to simply produce more degrees; rather we want to ensure that the budget crisis does not disproportionately affect those students who are low-income or historically underserved. We need to bridge interdisciplinary differences and move forward with this data together to make meaningful change.”
The afternoon session provided an opportunity for practitioners to hear directly from policymakers and experts. Members of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Task Force on Student Success, including Suzanne Reed, chief of staff to State Sen. Carol Liu (D-Pasadena); Barry A. Russell, vice chancellor of academic affairs for the California Community Colleges’ Chancellor’s Office; and David Morse, secretary for the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges and professor of English at Long Beach City College, led a discussion during the latter half of the program, putting forth a variety of metrics and practices that may be incorporated into a statewide plan to improve student retention and completion.
Center for Education co-director and USC Rossier School of Education professor Estela Mara Bensimon, also on the panel, spoke to the role equity should play in establishing best practices and metrics.
The task force, established through legislation drafted by Sen. Liu, is looking at what successful community colleges and community college systems around the nation are doing to improve student outcomes. Counseling, strong articulation and transfer agreements, and statewide transfer scholarships were identified as some of the best practices.
“There is no one-size-fits-all model for student success,” Morse said. “We need to give community colleges freedom and funding to do what works.”
Bensimon added, “Institutions must select their own indicators of success. In order to ensure equal access, participation and impact for their community, each school must find practices that fit their institution.”
Even though community college funding has been cut, this does not necessarily mean that underrepresented students would be locked out of higher education. Through thoughtful use of disaggregated data that shows the impact of programs that support minority students to creating relationships with like-minded colleges across the state, the participating practitioners pledged to keep equity on the table. With its continued research, innovative tools and networking opportunities, the Center for Education will help to guide the way.