D, E and I: How to Achieve Equity in Enrollment

Lyquaia Purcell

When we think about equity in enrollment, it’s easy to simply lump equity in the DEI bucket.  Sometimes the words that make up the DEI acronym seem interchangeable, so at times we may use one in place of the other or use the entire phrase as a non-specific catchall.  

I’ve learned that it can be more productive to focus on a specific part of the concept. In our space, we talk a lot about diversity and inclusion. I’ve noticed that even within titles in our own industry, diversity and inclusion always seem to appear.

And I found myself asking, “Why is that?” What I landed on was that equity requires more thoughtfulness, can be difficult to measure and can feel even more difficult to accomplish. Make no mistake-- it’s achievable. But to get us all on the same page, let’s look at the definitions. 

Diversity really refers to numeric representation. In an industry driven by numbers — from how many students are needed at the top of the funnel to strengthening the overall GPA of an incoming class — we’re good at numbers in the enrollment management space. Diversity is measurable and fits neatly into our funnel. 

Inclusion is about going beyond the numbers to ensure students feel welcomed and valued. Consider this quote from Verna Myers, who says, “Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”  We can be pretty good at this, too. Enrollment marketers ensure our digital viewbooks, websites, and ads are inclusive, and our events team makes sure we have a little something for everyone at previews, open houses and scholarship days. 

And then there’s equity. Equity is an approach that ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities by first recognizing that advantages and barriers exist and as a result, we all have different needs. Equity is centered around the idea of not providing the same resources for everyone but giving people what they need. 

It has been refreshing to see that we are going down this path as an industry. Test-optional and test-free policies are great steps that move us towards equity. Sure, making this long-standing process optional has helped increase diversity and allowed more students to be included and remain in the college admissions funnel. But most importantly, these procedural changes have ultimately promoted fairness in the admissions process. So, what’s next?  

If you’re like me, you’ve come across some informative articles on what to do to maximize the momentum gained from updated testing policies to further increase equity. This might include:

  • Engaging with students earlier through personalized interactions, providing students with the information they need to hear to be ready for their college-bound journey. 
  • Leveraging financial aid and creating affordable paths for students. 
  • Reviewing applications holistically, and looking at a variety of indicators of talent, achievement and potential, and ending policies like legacy admissions. 

Thankfully, there isn't a shortage of ideas on what should be done. Usually, the more daunting question is “How can this be accomplished?”. The good news is that achieving equity and access are two things that should not be done alone. In fact, I do not recommend that enrollment offices expend time and effort reinventing a wheel that other groups have perfected.  

When it comes to equity in enrollment, effectiveness is maximized when you work collaboratively with pre-existing experts on campus, partner with Community Based Organizations (CBOs), keep guidance counselors informed, and leverage technology to help teams do the work that needs to be done. Here’s a quick breakdown: 

Collaborating across Campus

Achieving equity is multi-faceted, so when looking to execute on improving equity within the enrollment process, examine who may be missing from the table and partner with colleagues across campus. Pulling in other stakeholders not only provides support for a more thoughtful approach, but it also creates opportunities to fund collaborative efforts. And as your team makes progress, update campus leaders with key data points to keep goals top of mind across campus. For example, at Rollins College, the VP of Enrollment serves as a tri-chair alongside the VP of Student Affairs and VP for Academic Affairs and Provost for a committee focused on removing barriers for students across the student journey; this group consistently uses data and research to drive their mission forward. 

CBOs

There are several CBOs that work directly with underrepresented populations like low-income, under-resourced and first-generation students. Many of these CBOs start college-prep activities as early as the 8th grade and are a trusted source of information as it relates to the college admissions process. Some schools, like the University of South Carolina, work closely with CBOs in their equity recruitment efforts. One of our technology solutions, RaiseMe, helps schools incentivize positive behaviors, and the University of South Carolina uses this platform to incentivize students to participate in CBOs.  

High School Counselors

A recent survey found that more than 80 percent of high school students count on their high school counselors for help in researching colleges, which is not surprising, seeing as high school counselors have historically played a significant role in helping students and their parents navigate the college admissions process when resources to do so are available. High school counselors can play a huge role in your access efforts and help your team reach students who are not currently in your funnel. For example, NYU hosts virtual events with high school counselors all over the country and shares application insights, useful resources, and tips for how younger students can engage with their institution. In addition to these events, they keep high school counselors informed with quarterly updates providing information to support their students.  

Technology Partnerships

Technology can be a powerful tool for creating, improving and increasing equity by helping enrollment offices remove barriers and support students and parents where they need it. Whether that be through improving personalized communication via chatbots to meet students where they are, simplifying processes and cutting through the complexity, or even gamification to keep students engaged on and track, technology, when utilized well, can create opportunities for students throughout your enrollment pipeline.  
 
Most of us in the industry understand “why” equity is important and have thoughtful strategic plans that outline what our next steps should be. But know that when it comes to equity, the “how” should never be alone.  

Collaborating with colleagues, leaning on experts and using technology can assist your team in accomplishing the things that must be done. Remember, anything is possible when you have the right people around you to support you.  

We’re in this together. 

 

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