Practices that Promote Equity in Basic Skills in California Community Colleges

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Why Invest in Educational Practices that Promote Equitable Outcomes?

Research has shown value in diversity at all levels of employment and academia. California community colleges must capitalize on their existing diversity in credit and noncredit basic skills and ESL as a source to promote and perfuse diversity in all areas of California’s future.

  • When colleges examine the positive effect of diversity upon overall institutional outcomes, the results undeniably point to the rich and vital lifeblood needed in our state. “Studies of students in many different colleges and universities show that a diverse student body produces better educated graduates with more highly developed cognitive abilities, interpersonal skills and leadership abilities” (Handelsman, Miller & Pfund, 2007, p. 66).

  • When businesses examine diversity, they report that greater diversity equates to better problem-solving, increased creativity, global awareness, and improved skills, which result in better solutions and products (Lee, 2009, p.1, NRC, 2006).

  • When the government examines diversity, it reports that “Minorities are the fastest growing part of the labor force (U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d., p. 4a).” Immigrants are the fastest growing segment of the adult workforce, and they are facing some of the largest obstacles to success, particularly academic success (Myer, 2007). Of the 12% increase in the workforce, the majority are Asian (40%), Hispanic (37%) and Black Non-Hispanic (20%) as shown in the table below.

By 2016, more than 75% of California’s workforce will require some education or training beyond high school (Skills2Compete-California Campaign, 2009, p. 11). Occupations that require only an associate’s degree or a post-secondary vocational award are actually projected to grow slightly faster than occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or more (Executive Office of the President Council of Economic Advisors, 2009, pp. 11-12).

These statistics implicitly refer to the work of community colleges and particularly the students concentrated in credit and noncredit Basic Skills and ESL as the key to meeting future workforce and economic needs. Directing funding, improving practices and supporting effective strategies where these students are most concentrated aligns efforts where our most diverse students are trying to successfully acquire the education and training California needs for future economic health. Diversity matters intellectually and socially; it is the trademark of our credit and noncredit basic skills and ESL programs, but more importantly it is the hallmark of California’s population. Diversity needs to become the face of CCC successful outcomes.

Strategies that Promote Equitable Outcomes

How do we achieve equitable outcomes and equip our students to meet the future needs of California? The rest of this paper looks at practices nationwide and in California community colleges that have shown great success in promoting equitable outcomes. This paper makes an effort to provide a variety of strategies in order to meet the needs of our diverse colleges. The Academic Senate recognizes the importance of determining locally viable strategies for local populations. It also recognizes that some colleges, depending upon the health of the institutional governance system, may be more prepared for beginning these efforts at the institutional level. Other colleges may be at a timely point to integrate equity into programs, program review, clear program pathways, and program outcomes. Some colleges are not organized or ready to implement institution-wide or programmatic practices to promote equity. At these institutions, faculty will need to individually address equitable outcomes, whether in the classroom, in counseling, in the library, on the football field, or elsewhere. Ultimately, this focus on equitable outcomes must become an institution-wide effort deeply integrated into institutional learning outcomes, academic senate leadership, and institutional effectiveness. Therefore, this review begins with effective institutional practices and strategies, then proceeds to programmatic strategies in student services and instruction, and concludes with effective practices for individual faculty members in their classroom and student interactions. Many of the details of the practices and the data that validate their effectiveness will be included in appendices to provide an easy reading of the paper. In addition, these effective practices, and more, are available on the Academic Senate Basic Skills website at, a searchable database that invites all California community college faculty, staff, and administrators to submit their work for others to review and implement.

This paper will discuss three major characteristics underlying successful equitable practices. These three fundamentals are summarized below and expanded in the appendices.

1) Institution-wide Equity Mindedness: Institution-wide Equity Mindedness is a pervasive effort by the institution to use evidence driven processes to identify student barriers with the purpose of informing and improving practices to promote equitable outcomes (USC, 2010). This approach must be driven by the faculty, administrative and staff leadership. Equity mindedness connects information to action, linking budgeting and strategic planning. Institutional Equity Mindedness cultivates an institution-wide (and perhaps community-wide) environment for action and culture change (see Appendix B for a more complete definition).

2) Individual and Institutional Cultural Competence: Cultural competence is an individual and institutional ability to identify and describe cultural understanding and communication in order to create an educational environment resulting in equitable outcomes. Cultural competence helps institutions to reach out beyond the prevailing academic culture, effectively communicating with diverse cultures within the community (see Appendix C for a more complete definition).

3) Course, Program, and Institutional Universal Design for Learning: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) intentionally creates practices that are universally accessible and beneficial to all students. Universal Design addresses diversity by examining potential barriers and implementing varied and flexible instructional practices. The focus is on deploying the most encompassing and effective student-centered teaching and service practices to promote success (see Appendix D for a more complete definition).

The figure on the next page represents this multifaceted approach to equitable outcomes: reaching out to a diverse communities through cultural competence, providing for that community by focusing on universally designed curriculum and services, and all of this sustained by an equity-minded institution.

Figure 1 The Relationship between Equity Minded Institutions, Cultural Competence and Universal Design for Learning

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