Oakland University

Changing Culture and Practice Through Building an Equity Lens: From Data to Insight to Action

Oakland University is proactively building a deeper understanding of student success equity gaps through dissemination of a newly adapted innovative, the Student Success and Equity Dashboard, to boost student success measures, including retention and graduation, through targeted campus programs and initiatives.

To underscore Oakland University’s (OU) commitment to student success (its first strategic goal) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (its fourth strategic goal), they have engaged in targeted recruitment and support of underserved student groups. As enrollment of first generation-educated, Pell-eligible, and underrepresented minorities (URM) continues to grow, the campus community has become increasingly reflective regarding how OU can improve existing practices to ensure a resonant and welcoming environment that undergirds student success.

Within the past 10 years, OU has witnessed a 10% increase among first-time freshman URM enrollment (from 15% to 25%). Simultaneously, throughout and immediately following COVID-19, the university experienced a dramatic decline in URM student success. Marked equity gaps between URM and non-URM students were noted in multiple areas, including first-year retention, time to graduation, and academic performance. Retention gaps between other underserved groups such as Pell and first generation-educated students also widened. To mitigate equity gaps, Academic Affairs leadership worked with various campus units to reinforce OU’s commitment to, and intentionality in, creating a resonant and responsive curricular and co-curricular student experience.

The Student Success and Equity Dashboard project aims to provide broad access to student data. The Dashboard helps the university quickly pinpoint where problems exist and inform strategic actions to address retention and achievement gaps among historically marginalized student groups. The adoption of the Dashboard addresses the intersection of student success and diversity, equity, and inclusion by facilitating a culture that welcomes the implementation of high impact and OU-specific best practices. By ensuring that the entire campus community has a shared lens regarding existing equity gaps, OU can actively foster specific strategies to provide support and resources to underserved student groups. By setting measurable goals to determine how effective faculty, staff, and administrative strategies are at reducing and eliminating equity gaps, OU ensures that all students who attend can realize their dream of a degree.

The Methodology

To ensure that the OU campus community can easily interpret and target recent equity gaps and their causal factors, the Office of Academic Affairs became the first Michigan institution of higher education to adapt the California State University (CSU) Student Success Dashboard. OU’s Student Success and Equity Dashboard provides myriad numerical data points to determine gaps based on race/ethnicity, Pell-eligibility, first generation-educated status, and gender. It measures and illustrates dropout, bottle-neck courses, DFWI rates, and provides mitigation strategies to eliminate achievement gaps.

The equity-focused dashboard uses visuals and animation to bring data to life, making relatively complex concepts easily understandable and generating insights to take actions to improve curricular and co-curricular practices. It provides the campus community, regardless of data-literacy skills, an equal understanding of relevant data. The Dashboard also ensures that all users can easily determine performance gaps, with the ultimate goal of understanding how each OU community member contributes to student success and equity.

With the Provost’s Office championing the newly launched Student Success and Equity Dashboard, engaging first with the Dean’s Council and subsequently with department chairs, strong momentum is underway. Academic Affairs is working with campus constituents in interpreting insights generated from the Dashboard to determine how each unit can apply learnings to their respective practices and take action. OU can then prioritize resources to units with demonstrated promising practices to help reduce equity gaps. Thus far, enthusiasm regarding the Dashboard has been extensive as faculty, staff, and administrators can quickly discover in which courses students are struggling, and foster strategies with colleagues about how to best support students.

Raising awareness of the Dashboard and its value is supported through various training programs. Faculty and staff are asked about what they know about their students, their success rates, entry and exit from majors, and other factors. They are then asked to consider what roles they play, individually and collectively, in creating more inclusive, supportive, and resonant pedagogic practices. Faculty members are encouraged to collaborate with the university’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to implement best practices with demonstrated success among marginalized student groups in cultivating a strong sense of belonging.

The university is measuring progress through the number of academic and administrative units engaged in training, number of faculty members participating in best practices-related CETL programs, and changes in culture and practices initiated due to Dashboard exploration. Ultimately, OU will consider the initiative a success once it sees the equity gaps between its diverse undergraduates begin to close.

The Impact

Since the inception of higher education, socioeconomic status has often led to higher educational performance, creating a system that inherently rewards privilege as opposed to hardship, thus negating the navigational capital of students who have had to overcome obstacles. The Student Success and Equity Dashboard facilitates OU’s ability to make equity the goal, thereby focusing the collective institutional intention on providing access and support to needed services, strategies, and programs to create a more equitable and focused platform.

The Student Success and Equity Dashboard has the potential to catalyze a needed cultural shift through disseminating a common lens through which faculty, staff, and administration can see the intersection of DEI and student success. The synergistic effects of social determinants, COVID-19, and the challenges students face compel faculty, staff and administrators to adapt new strategies to ensure campus success. The equity gaps revealed through the Dashboard allow the entire OU community to coalesce and spark creative interventions based on high-impact practices. Oakland University is committed to the intersection of DEI and student success. By ensuring that all members of the OU community build an understanding of student equity gaps and resonant success strategies, insights can propel actions to ensure that all OU students achieve the dream of a degree. 

Key Takeaways

Many institutions of higher education are experiencing the combined effects of declining enrollment, an enduring pandemic, and other challenges to student success. OU encourages the use of an innovative dashboard to raise awareness, develop an equity lens, and facilitate the implementation of resonant strategies to mitigate equity gaps. The OU Dashboard provides an excellent place from which to put equity at the center of student, institutional, and ultimately higher education success overall.

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