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ACE Initiative to Examine Equity Gaps in Higher Education

A new, three-year initiative by the American Council on Education (ACE) will provide a “data-informed foundation” to promote policies and practices that support students, faculty and staff of color in higher education.

ACE recently announced that its project, “Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report,” will examine gaps and progress in educational attainment for underrepresented students. The project will also evaluate diversity issues in the professoriate and postsecondary leadership pipeline.

Lorelle EspinosaLorelle Espinosa

“While communities of color have made tremendous educational progress over the last several decades, data show that persistent racial gaps remain, from preschool through postsecondary education, professional training, hiring, retention and promotion,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell in the organization’s announcement. “With this initiative, ACE aims to engage a broad community of stakeholders including campus leadership, policymakers, researchers and practitioners who study and carry out work that seeks to advance communities of color on our nation’s college and university campuses.”

The announcement for the initiative comes amid struggles by some in higher education to implement long-term and systemic solutions that address the widening racial achievement and opportunity gaps despite a changing and more diverse higher education landscape.

Plans for the initiative began when Lorelle Espinosa, assistant vice president at ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy (CPRS) and principal investigator for the initiative, started thinking about how ACE could build on its previous work on race and ethnicity in higher education in a way that is updated with new data and new information, she said.

A “cornerstone” of the project will be the creation of a digital platform – a micro-site – that will serve as a “portfolio of work” and as a “launch-point” to larger conversations around access and support for underrepresented students in their higher education pursuits, Espinosa said. “We want it to serve as a hub for the information that people require to move diversity, equity and inclusion issues forward.”

CPRS, a center that “provides thought leadership at the intersection of public policy and institutional strategy,” will lead the initiative in collaboration with RTI International, a not-for-profit research institute with knowledge in data analysis and visualization. Financial support for the initiative comes from a $938,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

An advisory committee composed of experts specializing in issues around diversity, equity, economics and public policy will guide the “Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education” project under Dr. Sandy Baum, an economist at the Urban Institute and chair of the committee.

Espinosa said that members of the advisory committee are in the discovery phase now, gathering various perspectives and data from outside researchers, college administrators, faculty, peer organizations and other education leaders on race and ethnicity in higher education. She added that people should feel free to reach out to ACE and the advisory committee to share other perspectives on policies and practices relevant to equity and inclusion.

“I didn’t want us to start the project with the diversity indicators in mind,” Espinosa said. “We started this with an idea of the types of questions we might want to answer. We also wanted to take this journey with a lot of different perspectives in mind.”

The advisory committee will convene in January to discuss the diversity issues the initiative will examine. Throughout the duration of the project’s three years, two written reports will also be produced that demonstrate short- and long-term trends in higher education, in addition to the current status of educational opportunity, attainment, and post-collegiate outcomes for postsecondary students, faculty and staff from various racial and ethnic backgrounds,  according to ACE officials.

ACE’s leaders hope that the new initiative will engage the scholarly community and other education stakeholders by filling in data gaps and closely evaluating promising practices and policies that aim to eliminate equity disparities.

Espinosa said that she plans to seek additional funding to expand the project’s digital platform over time into a hub of information that individuals can use to “build the case or advance the case for race and ethnicity” as it intersects with a host of different issues in education.

The site, she said, will serve as a space where institutional leaders, education practitioners and others can create a community, connect with experts in the field and learn more ideas and practices that will eliminate inequity in education.

“Our goal is to provide the type of information that is required to adapt and respond to the academic and social needs of populations that are making up an increasing portion of the students on college and university campuses,” Espinosa said. “We cannot overstate the profound need for data that is readily accessible, accurate and timely.”

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.







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