Practices that Promote Equity in Basic Skills in California Community Colleges

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The Language of Diversity and Equity

When discussing equity and diversity, it is important to note that California is the most diverse state in the U.S., and the Academic Senate is concerned with all aspects of diversity and equity for all students. The Academic Senate recognizes the pivotal role the CCCs play as a point of access for a wide diversity of students: students of color, students from low socioeconomic conditions, immigrants, single parents, returning adults, and many others. Focusing on a particular ethnic population or a particular underserved group would not serve the diverse nature of our institutions and our state. Rather, this paper, combined with other ASCCC papers about equity and student equity plans, advocates a perspective that recognizes the importance of equitable access, support, and successful outcomes for all students.

Language is an important factor when speaking about equity, but also a complicated one. For instance, terminology used to report data for various ethnic and immigrant populations varies based upon data collection conventions, and those conventions will be changing again with the 2010 census. Some federal and state data refer to Hispanic or Latino, which are not the same and are not consistently defined, even among those who self select these descriptors. Some data refer to Black, while other reports specify African-American. Reference to Asian as a group ignores the vast differences among those with roots in India versus China, Japan, or the Middle East. Where data are discussed, the terminology from that report will be used; it would be inappropriate to select and use a single term when the conventions used to collect and categorize data are not similar. In other words, you will see information referring to both Hispanic and Latino, according to the description in the data source. Occasionally the population requiring more attention crosses ethnic and cultural descriptions, relating more to other commonalities affecting success such as veterans, single parents, or immigrants, to name just a few. While choice of ethnicity categories is important to acknowledge, the take-away message from this paper needs to be that local colleges must look at their particular student populations that are not succeeding and investigate whether a change of practice or elimination of certain institutional barriers would create a rigorous and effective method to promote success. These types of analyzes and subsequent improvement of practice for any particular group most often benefit all students because the focus is on the students and on success. Therefore, this paper will refer to equitable access, support, and success for all students and refrain from identifying specific student populations except where practices have been designed to address particular needs or data is reported for specific populations.

The purpose of this paper is to direct attention to any and all populations that are not succeeding, identify any barriers, and explore practices that will mitigate those barriers to success. Later, in the effective practices portion of the paper, the term Universal Design for Learning (UDL) will be used to build upon this concept. UDL practices are universally accessible and beneficial to all students with a purpose of promoting access. For the purposes of this paper, universal design refers to creating an environment that recognizes and respects diversity and asks, “What barriers could be preventing access to learning material or comprehension?” This approach offers a stark contrast to the reflexive response that blames the lack of success on deficit thinking or condemns particular attributes of students or previous educational systems. It is true that many of our current students are characterized by fundamental and significant academic and workplace skills gaps. It is also true that educational statistics consistently show disproportionate success rates in Hispanic and Black populations. UDL guides us to ask if these factors may be the result of the educational design rather than some problem with our students. This paper seeks to challenge individual faculty, local senates, and institutional leaders to embrace equitable access and support through substantive institutional inquiry with a goal to promoting equitable outcomes for all students.

But before exploring these issues, one must first ask, “What is equity?” Collegially defining equity is an important beginning exercise and should be customized to each institution’s populations, needs, and mission. In developing a foundation for this paper, a focus group of California community college faculty collected individual equity definitions from faculty across disciplines in credit and noncredit. The focus group then worked collaboratively to integrate this input and to define equity for the purpose of this paper:

Equity is an institutionally-driven, data-informed approach to provide optimal conditions for success for all students and to change the focus to actively address barriers in an effort to promote equitable outcomes.

This equity is institutionally-driven. It represents a perspective that administration, faculty, and staff adopt that shifts conversations and focus to identify and address success barriers for all students.

This equity is data-informed and based within an equity-mindedness. Equity-mindedness1 occurs as a result of a data-informed culture that relies upon quantitative and qualitative research to provide actionable information guiding responses to the needs of student populations and the demands of the workforce and responsible citizenry.

This equity focuses on conditions for success. Success, defined here, is a multiple measure as students develop personally, vocationally, and academically along one or more pathways. Further, a key aspect of equity is the intentional construction of clearly defined and articulated educational pathways (e.g., noncredit to credit) that meet diverse needs and outcomes.

Because the definition of equity should be something owned and custom-tailored to the inherent institutional diversity and community population, the effective practices section of this paper describes several valuable strategies to begin this conversation. Active engagement in defining equity by campus constituents motivates and engages those within the institution. When defining equity, a college must consider equitable outcomes on individualized, group, and societal levels. Limiting and measuring outcomes by transfer and degrees alone can undervalue the important and intermediate outcomes that validate the educational process for academically underprepared students (Redden, 2009). Increasing success and decreasing barriers depends upon adequate support and includes attention to better English skills, engaged citizenry, and cultural and academic sophistication.

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