For higher education to close the equity gap, institutional leaders must address the impact that foundational elements in several areas have on degree achievement

6 ways to advance equitable access in higher education

For higher education to close the equity gap, institutional leaders must address the impact that foundational elements in several areas have on degree achievement

In the spring of 2020, we saw life as we knew it largely disrupted due to the global pandemic. Society continues to weather its effects, which show up differently for various communities due to the persistence of systemic inequalities. Americans are looking for ways to obtain upward mobility, and historically, the best way to achieve this has been through higher education.

Not everyone has had equal access to higher education, and this issue appears to be deepening in certain sectors.  In response, colleges and universities can work to address the problem of access to higher education through a holistic, proactive approach.

Diversify Recruiting Efforts

Many high school students know what college they want to attend. They may have done their own research or been recruited through a high school visit or targeted marketing campaign due to their standardized test scores. While it is important to continue to recruit students who have a clear focus on college, students who may not appear to be ‘good candidates’ should not be overlooked. Institutions should actively recruit students from all backgrounds and educational experiences. These students should be given the opportunity to pursue higher education and provided the resources needed to guide them through the application process and transition to college. 

Increasing Student Advisement

Once students begin their college careers, the next step in removing barriers is increasing student advisement. Individual advisement is integral to a successful student experience, so expanding access to advising can play a crucial role in addressing equity gaps by giving students access to resources needed to succeed.

Advisors can help students become acquainted with what to expect in college and how to navigate the demands of their classes. They can also connect students with professional counseling and other resources needed when experiencing significant life challenges.  Many of today’s campuses typically have one advisor for every 300-400 students, making it difficult to provide this service at the capacity needed. Institutions must realize that while resources are a continual challenge, it is essential that they be directed to advisement so that students can receive individualized guidance.

Recognizing Earned Credit in Policy

It is now a reality that students may attend multiple colleges throughout their lifetime, especially as higher education becomes more comfortable with hybrid and online offerings. Students may transfer between institutions because of changes in life circumstances, or they may be moving from a community college to a four-year institution. If a student’s past learning experience is not adequately recognized in transfer, this creates barriers and further limits their access to opportunities. Loss of credit leads to students having to repeat coursework, take additional classes, and take out extra loans. This can cause delays in academic progress and degree achievement.

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