Three Colorado Schools With a Common Goal: Equity

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This piece is the second in a series spotlighting the impact that states, systems and higher education institutions are having when they engage faculty more fully in student success strategies, including the reform of developmental education.

 

In Colorado, higher education leaders have been laying the foundation for developmental education reform for nearly a decade. A community college task force, established in 2011, helped put it on the agenda. The first co-requisite offerings began rolling out in 2016. Institutional leaders have made strides expanding guided pathways and models for supplemental academic instruction, but improving student persistence and completion across the state has remained a challenge.

With growing urgency, leading colleges and universities in Colorado recognized that preparing faculty to deliver quality instruction is particularly beneficial to advancing student equity. The examples highlighted in this practice profile underscore how the role of faculty and quality teaching are central to creating inclusive learning environments leading to more equitable outcomes.

 

Community College of Aurora

Community College of Aurora logoFor the Community College of Aurora (CCA), becoming an equity-minded institution involves all aspects of the institution’s operations. CCA’s five-year Inclusive Excellence (IE) Strategic Plan pioneered a nationally-recognized approach that diversified its workforce and embedded equity work throughout the college that is driven by goals to improve student. “A commitment to inclusive excellence and equity is in the DNA of our college,” said Dr. Tricia Johnson, CCA’s vice president for academic affairs from 2017 to 2021

Johnson and her team in the Instructional Intervention and Support (IIS) department were charged with executing on many of CCA’s IE teaching and learning goals. In recent years, the department expanded professional development offerings and created new incentives for participation. Johnson said that CCA launched a program that offers faculty “unprecedented levels of professional development and support” to implement inclusive teaching practices.

 

Math Faculty and Equity Mindedness

CCA offers several professional development opportunities for faculty, including the Equity in Instruction Leadership Academy, an immersive equity-consciousness training program through which faculty cohorts meet regularly to analyze disaggregated equity data for their courses and discuss how mindset and inherent biases shape student learning experiences.

The Academy grew out of a math department initiative led by its chair, James Gray. Using the USC Rossier Center for Urban Education’s Equity Scorecard, Gray and his fellow math instructors engaged in peer-to-peer discussions that gradually led them to become “collectively conscious” of unintended biases and how their behaviors, particularly toward Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students, “conveyed indifference, lack of caring and even fear.”  They set equity goals and took steps to change their teaching practices to be more inclusive.

 

Pairing Practical Approaches with Mindset

As CCA’s Inclusive Excellence Strategic Planning took shape in 2017, Johnson wanted to provide faculty with professional development opportunities that prepared them to immediately implement inclusive teaching practices. In partnership with the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), CCA launched a program for faculty to address a comprehensive body of evidence-based inclusive teaching practices.

“What’s been so beautiful is faculty members’ willingness to be vulnerable and be comfortable enough to really listen, push, and grow,” Johnson said. “I have had individuals who have been teaching for 20 years say, ‘It reinvigorated my teaching. I found this passion for it again that I hadn’t felt in a while.’”

When the Covid-19 pandemic led to budget cuts, funding for professional development remained. In an updated report on CCA’s IE Strategic Plan, the IIS department made the case for a “sustainable infrastructure” for faculty development, citing “high participation and feedback received” from the ACUE course.

“We knew how critically important, especially in a time like this, that professional development would be for our faculty or instructors,” Johnson said.

 

University of Colorado Denver

University of Colorado Denver logoThree years ago, the academic leaders at the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) were looking for ways to engage more faculty who were teaching the university’s “influential courses,” characterized by having large enrollment of more than 75 students and historically producing high DFW rates—meaning 20% of students receive a final grade of D, F or withdraw from the course.

“If they are not successful in those courses, they’re more likely to drop out,” said Dr. Margaret Wood, CU Denver’s associate vice chancellor of academic achievement. With limited resources, Wood sought to maximize impact. To scale professional learning opportunities, she partnered with ACUE and established UC Denver’s inaugural Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

To accommodate faculty members’ demanding schedules, Wood and the Center’s director, Dr. Lindsey Hamilton, offered a series of shorter microcredential courses. Within days, CU Denver filled every open spot. It took three months to engage as many faculty that previously took three years. “In terms of scaling, shorter micro credential courses are definitely the right approach for us to get more faculty involved,” Hamilton said.

 

Metropolitan State University Denver

Metropolitan State University of Denver logoAt Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), a first-of-its-kind collaboration between two university offices led to the launch of an inclusive teaching initiative with a focus on preparing faculty in effective online teaching practices.

Equity and inclusive excellence are core values at MSU Denver. Recently designated a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), MSU Denver serves a student population in which the average age of undergraduates is 25 years old, 50% are first-generation college students, and 80% work full- or part-time.

When the university’s bustling downtown campus closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, MSU Denver moved 90% of its classes online. At the same time, nationwide protests over systemic racism and injustice pushed higher education to reckon with its role in advancing equity.

“Let’s meet these two moments,” said Jeff Loats, director of MSU Denver’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Design. “We have a pandemic which is forcing instructors online, and we have a national crisis attending to inherent racism in our country.”

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion partnered with the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design—two offices that previously did not work closely together—to apply for federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The university focused the funds to develop a professional learning initiative for faculty the addresses anti-racist pedagogies, inclusive teaching practices, and equity-consciousness.

 

 

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