Applied Equity in Higher Education - September 2021

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A Letter from the Executive Director

Dear ILEA Partners,

Welcome to another new academic year that, paired with the colorful change of the seasons here in the Midwest, has always filled me with hope and excitement for the year ahead as both a student and an educator. I am so pleased to be writing to you in my new capacity as the second Executive Director of PCC, succeeding our founding ED Dr. Kyle Westbrook last month. I am honored to have the opportunity to lead PCC's talented team in this next chapter, while continuing to expand our work with you – our committed college and university partners – as you make progress on our shared aspirations for greater racial and socioeconomic equity across Illinois' higher education system.

This year, the PCC will continue to expand and enhance our ILEA Programming and supports in response to your feedback. We have further developed programming for the ILEA Equity Academy for Presidents and Cabinets and will offer an opportunity for all ILEA teams to join or continue their engagement. We have an excellent lineup of speakers on deck for the ILEA Annual Summit on November 3-5, 2021 and the Winter Equity Institute in February 2022. We will continue to offer support in building your institutional data capacity and will begin new Learning Communities for cross-institutional discussion and collaboration through the Equity Circles for Change. Stay tuned for additional announcements in the coming weeks regarding new opportunities for professional development to build team efficacy on equity efforts, new tools and resources, and opportunities for dialogue within and outside of the ILEA Initiative.

In this newsletter, we share a new feature within the spotlight section called Equity in Practice, which will elevate the institutional equity work begin implemented on your campuses. We look forward to using this as one of multiple places where these stories will be shared. We have also renamed this section Applied Equity in Higher Education in which we will use this space to highlight the urgency of our equity efforts and the concrete actions necessary to remove institutional barriers and target supports so all of our students have an equitable opportunity to earn their degrees. This is equity as action, practiced as a verb.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage this month, I want to draw attention to why we must pair our equity work with action for our Latinx students. Hispanic Heritage has been recognized and celebrated in the U.S. in some form since the late 1960s, with the September 15 kick-off chosen for its connection to the timing of independence of several Latin American countries. Most of you will host virtual and in-person events this month to recognize the celebration, as nearly all ILEA institutions are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs - 17) or emerging HSIs (5). Among all Latinx undergraduates in Illinois, 42% attend ILEA colleges and universities. Collectively, just over one-quarter of all of your students are Latinx – representing more than 40,000 potential future Latinx graduates of your institutions[1], with many more following in their footsteps each year. That represents an incredible opportunity and responsibility for your equity efforts to result in tens of thousands of degrees for Illinois' Latinx students.

Your work on this front matters a great deal. Latinx adults are underrepresented among associate and bachelor's degree earners in every state.[2]According to the Education Trust, only 20.4% of Latinx adults in Illinois have a college degree – a 30 point disparity with White adults. In Illinois, Latinx students represent 24.9% of associate degree seekers, earning a grade of A- from the Education Trust in terms of proportionality to the state's population, and 18.8% of bachelor's degree seekers, earning a grade of C-. In terms of degree completion, as we know, we fare worse. In terms of how well the percentage of degrees awarded to Latinx undergraduates reflects the racial and ethnic composition of the population in Illinois, we receive a D for associate degrees conferred and an F for bachelor's degrees.[3]

We know that representation matters and many of your Equity Plans reinforce this point as they include strategies to achieve greater diversity among faculty, staff, and administration. Even still, in 2018 Latinx women and men make up only 6% of all full-time faculty in the U.S.[4]

With 22 ILEA institutions that are current or aspiring HSIs, we can and will do better in serving our Latinx students and ensuring that our hiring, promotion, and tenure practices for faculty and staff move us toward greater representation of the rich diversity of our students and state.

As the semester is now well underway, I hope will all find time for reflection with your teams on the first year of Equity Plan implementation, make adjustments, and set ambitious goals for the year ahead. The team at the PCC is doing the same as we celebrate five years since our founding and three years since the launch of ILEA. I also hope you can find time to enjoy this most beautiful season and to read an excellent book by a Latinx author (book lists here, here, and here), perhaps while curling up with something warm to drink and the requisite apple cider donut.

In partnership for equity,

Lisa


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[1] Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) Enrollment & Degree System http://www.ibhe.org/EnrollmentsDegrees/

[2] Broken Mirrors: Latino Student Representation at State Public Colleges and Universities (Education Trust) https://edtrustmain.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/10123122/Broken-Mirrors-Latino-Student-Representation-at-State-Public-Colleges-and-Universities-September-2019.pdf

[3] State Equity Report Card – Illinois http://stateequity.org/state/illinois

[4] National Center for Education Statistics https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/csc

twitter bird 200x200 Connect with me on Twitter at @Lili_Castille and let’s discuss what Latinx authors we’re reading this month!


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Equity in Action - May 2021

Dear ILEA Partners,

In a really difficult year, what has kept us going at PCC is the tireless work being done by all of you across the ILEA network. You have shown incredible resilience as institutions, as leaders, as educators. You have also demonstrated deep commitment to students and your institutional missions. This is apparent in how you have reached out directly and regularly to connect with students; directed financial resources to them; obtained hardware and connectivity to continue online learning; provided for basic needs; changed college policies, timing, and procedures to center student needs; and so much more. This has all been done in an effort to enable students to persist with their college plans in the midst of the many hardships faced by all.

You have also stayed the course on your Equity Plans. The finalizing, publishing, and first year of implementation of the plans have coincided nearly imperfectly with the pandemic. And while much work and rethinking will be required to adjust to our current reality, the foundation has been laid and the work has not stopped. I have heard the stories you have told in our zoom calls. I have seen it in the news articles and read it in your tweets, presentations, and press releases. I have listened to your plans, inquiry, and response as we have looked at data together in our capacity building sessions. I have observed it as you have shown up for Equity Academies, core team meetings, webinars, and more. If anything, the work has accelerated.

We remain clear-eyed, but hopeful about the challenges in the months ahead. The overall decline in college enrollments this past fall has, as expected, continued into the spring. As with the effects of the pandemic, this has not been distributed equally across the higher education landscape. We have seen dramatic declines in enrollments for nearly all student groups, but the far greatest declines have been for students who are Black, Latinx, low-income, over 25 years old, and male. We are also seeing overall declines in enrollment for 18-20 year olds. This has hit many of our community colleges hardest, as they are those that serve the largest numbers of students who have been disproportionately impacted economically and physically by COVID-19. The average declines also mask significant variance across institutions. All of this has caused serious concern about if this will represent an educational pause for these students, or if it will become a lost slice of the college-going population. We cannot let it be the latter.

While many challenges remain that draw our attention, I remain hopeful about the year ahead. In the coming weeks we will celebrate with you as you graduate thousands of students from your institutions. We are awarding 19 Catalyst Grants totaling nearly $230K to ILEA colleges and universities for new approaches you will deploy. We will also highlight your work through the second annual Higher Education Matters campaign (May 10-14). As vaccination rates rise and you make plans to bring back greater numbers of students to campus in the fall, the PCC will continue to expand our programming to support your equity efforts in response to the significant feedback you have shared with us this year. We will enhance and expand our Annual ILEA Summit (November 3-5, 2021), Winter Equity Institute (February 24-25, 2022), and professional development offerings. We will also release the first Annual ILEA Report, document and elevate your work, launch a formal evaluation of ILEA, offer opportunities for dialogue across the network, and release a number of tools and resources on a revamped PCC website for you to utilize and access on demand.

As we look ahead to long summer days, I hope you all have a chance to enjoy some sunshine and reconnect with loved ones this summer. As we close out the most difficult year of many of our work and personal lives, we must prioritize time to care for ourselves, in order to continue to show up for our students and colleagues.

Thank you for your heroic efforts this year. Your work on higher education equity, especially in the midst of a crisis, will be a model for those across the country who will follow in your footsteps.

In partnership for equity,

Lisa

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Equity in Action

Dear ILEA Partners,

It has been wonderful to see many of your faces on Zoom in February as we conclude our first month of substantial ILEA programming of the new year. While we are grateful for the opportunity provided by virtual events and discussions to continue to engage and move our collective work forward during the pandemic, we miss the opportunity afforded by in-person engagement. The ILEA team is currently considering what our future mix of programming, virtual and in-person, will look like when we are again able to gather in the same space. We would love to hear from you as we develop plans for our professional development and convening supports in 2021-22 and beyond.

In this month of honoring Black history, I want to pose a question for us all to consider as practitioners of racial equity in higher education. How do we place undue burdens on our Black students as we seek to support them better?This remains true even as we acknowledge that today's racial disparities within our higher education system are derivative of historical and ongoing inequities connected to the design and culture of our colleges and universities; structural inequities that exist in our legal, banking, labor market, housing, voting, and other systems; as well as through the unacknowledged and lasting legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. As the events of this and last year have shown, white supremacy and racism remain, and are every bit as American as the stars and stripes. This week, as we surpass the grim milestone of more than half a million U.S. deaths due to COVID-19, which has had a disproportionately devastating impact on communities of color, we must carefully consider what we are asking of our students in the process of becoming more equitable institutions.

Where do we see examples of this happening? One such place is via the FAFSA verification process, discovered through an analysis conducted by the Washington Post. The investigation found that students are more likely to be selected from Black (1.8x more likely) and Latinx (1.4x more likely) neighborhoods for verification, a type of audit process that often requires several additional points of information. This onerous process causes between 11-25% of students selected to drop out of the FAFSA application process altogether, a phenomenon known as verification melt. We know many of those students may never show up at any college as a result.

On our campuses, this may show up in repeatedly asking our Black staff to be the only ones to lead discussions on race or racism. Among our historically white colleges and universities, students and staff of color may be the 'only' or one of the few in their classes, on the committee, or in the department. Continuing to ask the same people to explain how your institutions may not be serving them well, despite years of campus climate surveys and other forms of feedback, places undue burden on those students and staff, and can negatively affect retention. Bringing awareness to these realities and responding with action, is an important part of this work.

What can we do about this? First, this work requires a deep and sustained commitment to self-reflection. This must happen regularly at the level of the individual, the team, and the institution. Second, we must commit to broadening the number of individuals who speak clearly about equity, what it means to our institutions, and why it matters. All ILEA leadership team members and department heads should work to become fluent in the language of higher education equity, and continue to build the army of equity agents within your institutions. Finally, resources in the form of books, case studies, Ted talks, PCC webinars and events, and others exist to support your continued progress on equity. One Chicago-based foundation, College Beyond, framed it this way in a guidebook they produced: Why am I Always Being Researched? This publication examines how a power imbalance exists that influences what we ask students and how.

I encourage you to consider how this may be true within your own institutions. As we survey students to gather critical data, how can we ensure we are removing barriers and not placing additional roadblocks in the way of student success?As we create new required touchpoints with students, how do we make sure these are supportive of their success and not deterrents to their continued persistence? How do we ensure we are not pathologizing students who are overcoming incredible challenges to complete their degrees?

Thank you for all you do every day to change the narrative of historic inequity in Illinois higher education. Your leadership is paving the way for more significant change across the state and nation, and the students you graduate will be those that continue to do better for every subsequent generation.

In partnership for equity,

Lisa

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