Board Responsibility for Equitable Student Success

What Is Equitable Student Success?

How do we define equitable student success?

Equitable student success is the key transformational agenda for higher education. Institutional and sector transformation is about enabling institutions to directly confront and overcome all major threats to their efficacy and their roles in advancing an ever-progressing democratic society. This mission- and strategy-centric work is an essential board responsibility.

Equitable student success requires that everything that can be done inside of and around an institution to maximize the capability of each and every student is what must be done. This transformation at its most basic level is about eliminating race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of completion and postgraduate success and ensuring an affirming student experience.

From a student-centric mission, the institution sets about creating a student experience enabling equitable outcomes and educational value. Seeking to identify and eliminate barriers to student success and thriving, wholeness of experience, and postgraduate expectation is required. Barriers based on demographic characteristics such as race, income, prior educational opportunities, culture, language, gender, sexual orientation, and ability should be eliminated whether those barriers are found in board composition and policy, administrative capability, institutional policy and practice, customs, faculty configuration and orientation, support services, the local community, or government agencies. Equitable student success is incorporated into ideas of equitable outcomes and equitable value in the long term. Student efficacy, wholeness, and resilience are expected outcomes.

Examples of how student success is used by other organizations.

For students, success consists not just of good grades and steady progress toward graduation, but a holistic sense of fulfillment…. In today’s environment, schools must go beyond first-year retention to help students graduate in less time, at lower cost, and with the best possible post-graduate outcomes.” (EAB)

Students experience postsecondary value when provided equitable access and support to complete quality, affordable credentials that offer economic mobility and prepare them to advance racial and economic justice in our society.” (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

“…to eliminate disparities in educational outcomes based on student background characteristics such as race/ethnicity, income, generational status, gender, and geography, with specific consideration to the individual demographic context of each institution…” (University Innovation Alliance)

Student success is central to the mission of higher education. Colleges and universities strive to prepare students to join the workforce and become leaders in their fields and engaged members in their communities. In today’s rapidly evolving economy, students must cultivate diverse skill sets beyond narrow technical training to become truly successful…. It is up to colleges and universities to provide students with the tools to succeed. AGB empowers our members to focus on student success in all its forms—student work readiness, graduation rates, personal growth, and retention rates— to ensure their students’ successful transition from the classroom to the workplace.” (Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges) 

Success: A diverse set of value-adding learning experiences, that include earning a credential, license, or certification; exploring career options; achieving a job promotion; identifying additional learning that may be necessary to actualize goals.” (American Council on Education) 

The diverse student success infrastructure elements share similar features that enhance effectiveness, including equity, alignment, broad stakeholder engagement, collaboration, learning, clarity, and transparency. These features capture basic ways of re-orienting higher education to be better organized towards supporting student success…. A diverse student success infrastructure enables the institution to mobilize to effectively serve a diverse student body. The infrastructure consists of the core features (policies, human resources, and finance) of an organization that facilitate daily functioning and operations. By intentionally focusing on the infrastructure, it can be shifted to support diverse student success. The infrastructure helps with three core areas related to change and systemic support for student success: implementation of interventions, initiatives, services, or programs; sustaining interventions; and ultimately helping lead to culture change.” (University of Southern California Pullias Center for Higher Education) 

“When students graduate having been taught tolerance, coexistence, and the ecumenical spirit of shared values and common destinies in challenging and stimulating environments in which they felt respected and valued; were prepared to serve and live in a richly diverse, globally interdependent world; were equipped to understand their relationship to humanity; and were inspired to dedicate their lives to the highest good and ideals they know, they will have experienced equitable student success. This cannot occur in an environment pervaded by vestigial impacts of de jure discrimination.”

Lezli Baskerville

President and CEO, National Association of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) and Chair of the Board, Alliance for Equity in Higher Education