State education advocates—including Western Colorado University leaders—have taken a step toward closing equity gaps in higher education. The inaugural “Day of Dialogue” was held March 15, 2021, and centered discussion around “Creating a Colorado for All.”
The event, hosted by Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) and the Equity Champions Coalition (ECC),” follows the Report on Educational Equity published in Fall 2020. The study identified gaps in educational access by race, gender and socioeconomic factors among students attending college, graduation rates and workforce earnings.
Among college-going students, the study shows gaps greater than 30% exist by race or ethnicity, 6-11% by gender and 14-23% by socioeconomic status. Regarding college completion, the report shows Black or African American and American Indian or Alaska Native complete at the lowest rates compared with white and Asian students. Females, the report states, complete at higher rates than males. Finally, the data shows males earn more than females with the same credentials—up to $24,000 more when comparing the same bachelor’s degree in STEM fields.
Building an Action Plan
The report supports Colorado’s goal to reach 66% educational attainment by 2025 through the implementation of strategies aimed at erasing equity gaps. The Day of Dialogue is the initial step in the report’s action plan.
“The equity report and Day of Dialogue event provide leaders with the tools to communicate our values around creating a Colorado for all,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a statement. “As we pave a way for our strong economic recovery, we are working to support our students, and with your help, we set this bold action into motion.”
During the Day of Dialogue, Western Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Melanie Hulbert, Ph.D., presented five actions developed to address the need for greater equity over the next four years.
Developing a Collective Vision
Hulbert is an ECC member. The coalition advises the CDHE by developing a collective vision and strategic direction to guide the Office of Educational Equity. The ECC works alongside CDHE to guide the implementation of high-impact strategies across institutions, collaborate on best practices, collect and analyze data, and identify necessary work to continue to close gaps.
Actions identified by Hulbert include: funding to increase access to development tools; analysis of existing policy identified as being barriers to students of color; improve statewide outreach and marketing to increase student access to opportunities; embed diversity, equity, inclusion and action practices into institutional culture and hiring practices; and elevate and centralize student voices.
“At the end of the day, it’s about action,” Hulbert said. “We know that it is difficult for students to be what they can’t see. Higher education has historically and statistically hired more white faculty than they have faculty of color. We want to change that.”
Steps Toward Change
The day concluded with the signing of an equity pledge by more than 60 Colorado organizations including Western. CDHE plans to hold an Educational Equity Day of Dialogue annually to report on the department’s progress toward erasing equity gaps and highlight traction on action steps outlined in the equity report.
For more information on this program, visit the CDHE website.
Learn more about Western’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and internationalization.
Author Credit: Chris Rourke
Photo Credit: Sarah Higgins