The Challenges of Student Equity Plans
The dialog heard at the Fall ASCCC Student Equity and Success Regional Meetings proved one thing: While Student Equity Plans are in varying stages of completion throughout community colleges across California, nearly every campus now faces the daunting challenge of simultaneously tackling the achievement gap and overall student success for all our local student populations. Planning meaningful ways to address local achievement gaps while also trying to create best practices to help all students complete their educational goals requires careful consideration among constituent groups. Efforts to mitigate disproportionate impact must be embedded throughout Student Success and Support Program (SSSP) plans as well as with other categorical plans and programs, such as local Basic Skills Plans. Faculty are essential to the success of these efforts. With such monumental planning and implementation work to be done, local academic senates must be effectively engaged and colleges must utilize clearly defined shared governance procedures to best advocate for student success.
With the deadlines for several plans—including the SSSP and Basic Skills Initiative plans—hitting campuses in close succession, established shared governance timelines may be challenged, and local academic senates can feel pressed for time. Given that these plans require the involvement of administration, staff, students, and faculty, one of the bits of good news that came in September was the extension of the deadline for Student Equity Plans: they are now due January 1, 2015. This extension provides a welcome bit of breathing room while colleges continue their planning efforts. Improving equity is a difficult project, and time is needed to wrestle with the concept in order to come to a clear understanding of what equity means as well as how equity ought to work on a practical level. While equality refers to ensuring similar treatment and resources for all, equity means that all populations reach the same outcome, which in this case is student success. With this definition in mind, colleges must now plan how they will mitigate disproportionate impact, tackling the evidential and structural conditions that disproportionately affect target student populations in the areas of access, course completion, ESL and basic skills completion, degree and certificate completion, and transfer rates.
Importantly, we are witnessing history in terms of student equity efforts. The SB 860 budget trailer bill in June put in statute the requirement that all colleges develop and maintain a Student Equity Plan in order to receive SSSP funds, which had previously only been in Title 5 regulation. We now also have legislation for $70 million in equity funding for California community colleges with the most funding going to the neediest districts. However, this legislation also increased the number of distinct populations colleges must analyze in their Student Equity Plans, for plans must now include analysis of students disaggregated along gender lines and include ethnic and gender subpopulations, veterans, low-income-students, foster youth, and students with disabilities. Because these changes in plan requirements came several months after colleges received the equity plan template, the template does not align with what is now in law. Rather than having to redo plans before January 2015, however, colleges are expected to be allowed to submit an additional outline for how they will address these new requirements going forward and should receive further instructions from the Chancellor’s Office within the next two months.
Local academic senates must stay engaged in conversations regarding these plans. Per Title 5 §53200 and the 10+1 areas of academic and professional matters, faculty have the right to make recommendations regarding student success, assessment and placement, and professional development. Therefore, faculty must participate in local discussions related to planning and writing their campus SSSP, Basic Skills, and Student Equity Plans. In addition to having informed faculty serving on shared governance committees, local academic senates should also provide time during academic senate meetings when faculty can more pointedly discuss various goals and activities delineated in these plans. Since local senates now have until January to finalize their Student Equity Plans, senates can take advantage of the extra time to ensure that faculty voices join those of administrators, classified staff, and students in the creation of such significant planning for equity in student success. On many campuses, the accelerated deadlines for the SSSP or Basic Skills Plan interfered with normal shared governance process timelines, and faculty were not provided an appropriate opportunity to participate in planning. Going forward, to prevent similar situations in the future, local senates should work with administrators to review effective shared governance practices and ensure early communication and inclusion. This moment is an opportune time to progress toward a campus culture where collaboration between senates, staff, and administrators is the natural, default approach, rather than perpetuating the longstanding tradition of working in the silos that undermines all of our efforts.
As colleges commit to improving student equity with specific goals and interventions in their Student Equity Plans, they must also make determinations as to how their state-allocated equity funds will be spent. Local academic senates should fully engage in their local participatory governance procedures pertaining to planning and budgeting so that faculty can contribute to informing decision-making related to the spending of equity funds. All equity fund expenditures must come from goals and plans documented in Student Equity Plans. Most broadly speaking, funds should be focused on the areas where the greatest achievement gaps are identified without negatively impacting other student groups. Another guiding principle to consider is spending funds on data-backed interventions that most directly impact students.
Undeniably, the rather sudden requirements to simultaneously produce a Student Equity Plan and an SSSP plan have created stress for faculty in California community colleges. Overall, though, local senates should recognize this unprecedented opportunity to increase collaboration among faculty, staff, administrators, and students to positively impact student success. Research strongly suggests that these projects do not need to start from scratch; rather, resources already exist, such as “A Matter of Degrees” from the Center for Community College Student Engagement and “Student Support (Re)defined” from the RP Group, that identify practices known to be effective. In addition, the state has provided funds to assist colleges with exploring and implementing new interventions on their campuses. Finally, with this focus on equity that includes identifying and removing achievement gaps, faculty have a practical way of realizing the primary mission of California community colleges: providing access to higher education for all of California’s citizens.
 Center for Community College Student Engagement. (2013). A matter of degrees: Engaging
practices, engaging students (high-impact practices for community college student engagement). Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin, Community College Leadership Program retrieved from http://www.ccsse.org/docs/Matter_of_Degrees_2.pdf
To access your copy of the Student Equity Template, as well as to find more information including guidelines and how to understand disproportionate impact, go to: http://extranet.cccco.edu/Divisions/StudentServices/StudentEquity.aspx
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