Educational Opportunities

Chair, Equity and Diversity Action Committee

In a growing global economy, the social and economic foundation of the nation is dependent upon the educational level of its workforce. Therefore, we must not only ensure that educational opportunities are available to all students, but that these same students achieve equitable educational outcomes. Outcomes, as opposed to access, will ensure that historically underrepresented students will possess the needed credentials to gain economic, social and political power to function in a more global society. At the last Academic Senate Plenary Session in Anaheim I heard comments from several faculty about the difficulty in finding ways to train faculty in working with their diverse student populations. Many community colleges continue to employ traditional modes of faculty development and possibly could be creating potential harmful learning environments for all students, especially historically underachieving students who are challenged as a result of poverty, lack of English fluency and achievement gaps experienced by racial and ethnic minorities. In a recent survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates that was released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, business leaders indicated that 63% of graduates are not prepared for the global economy. The association's president Carol Geary Schneider further reported that survey findings "suggests colleges and universities look for new ways to demonstrate student success." She continues, "We need to invent new forms of accountability that look at such issues as global knowledge and self-direction and intercultural competence, not just at critical thinking and communication skills." This certainly poses an interesting challenge for us as community college professors. In our classrooms, we see the changing demographics of our students, especially for those of us teaching in large urban environments. The California Postsecondary Education Commission, reported in 2007 that the California Community Colleges served a total of 1,547,742 students, of which 187,217 were Asian/Pacific Islanders, 114,670 were African Americans, 56,088 were Filipino, 442,663 were Latino, 13,512 were Native Americans, and 561,656 were White. Examining the demographics one can see the increasing percentage of students of color. The effectiveness of the success rates, whether vocational or transfer, within the community college system is dependent upon faculty who understand the needs of their diverse students. Institutional research has shown moderate improvement within the achievement gap at the community college level; however educational and economic stratification along racial and ethnic lines still prevails. The achievement gap still reflects a disparity between minority and White students.

While diversity on our campuses is an admirable goal, equity is rarely measured as an educational outcome.

Success rates are monitored to help identify gatekeeper courses; however, are African American and Latino students succeeding at the same rate as other groups?

As a speech communications professor I recognize the continuing achievement gap; therefore I'm constantly looking for ways of implementing strategies and techniques that can encourage retention and success in my classes. I want my students to become global thinkers and develop their communication skills to reach beyond the classroom as they learn about the challenges in the world around them. It's more than sitting next to someone in class that happens to look different or for whom English isn't her first language. What's critical is the interaction and engagement that I create during instruction. My students not only must perform in class, they must dialogue with each other. Questions about diversity, identity, community, privilege, oppression, power and responsibility as these issues relate to themselves are critical to learning. This enables students to understand how cultural factors influence communication. An important factor for teaching is to consider our own knowledge of the student population. How much do we know about our students and their backgrounds? What do we bring through our instruction so that students see themselves within an inclusive educational environment, not located on the sidelines where they merely get a glimpse of their contributions. This further raises a series of questions for us as faculty to ponder:

  1. 1. Do professional development activities at your college explore the notion of culture and identify the student's culture as a key part to learning?
  2. 2. Within professional development activities does your campus allow for an open and honest discussion about race and its influence upon us as faculty? How is it discussed?
  3. 3. Do your professional development activities provide a means for faculty to evaluate their own attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions about students of color?
  4. 4. Do you consider or address African American and Latino students' needs when designing your course content? How is this devised?

In addition to these questions there are other issues as well:

  1. 1. Are diversity, access and equity values or goals included in your college's mission statement? And if so, are these issues and objectives accounted for in the SLO development process?
  2. 2. Is the SLO development process aligned with your campus' Student Equity Plan? For example, are the findings about disparities in student academic outcomes being used to account for student equity in the SLO development process?
  3. 3. Are attempts being made to include for all classes diversity-related knowledge and capacities that might be considered as universal learning outcomes (e.g. learning how to understand and value multiple perspectives, etc.)?

These are just a few thoughts that need to be discussed on our campuses, and no matter how uncomfortable it may be, this could be a starting point for improving the quality of our teaching.