Urban Wire Three Steps toward Implementing Equity-Centered Student Supports and Engagement Practices
Amanda Briggs, Sandy Goodman
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Many students of color seek out career and technical education (CTE) programs, particularly programs offered online, to further their education and increase their earnings potential. But previous research has demonstrated that grade point averages, CTE program completion rates, and earnings after program entry are lower for Black and Latinx students than for their peers, and gaps are worse when programs are offered fully online.

These disproportionate effects on outcomes are related to structural barriers in CTE, including occupational sorting of Black and Latinx students into lower-yield fields, limited access to quality schools before college enrollment, and employment discrimination in the labor market.

Systemic racism is upheld and racial disparities are exacerbated when academic and career-oriented advising, student supports, and instruction are implemented with a deficit-based mindset—one that attributes disparities to students’ lack of preparation rather than to the institutions that failed to prepare them.

Equity-conscious (PDF) student support and engagement strategies offer proactive and intentional practices that reject a deficit-based approach and redesign instruction and support services to intentionally engage and respond to the range of students’ lived experience, identities, prior knowledge, and needs. These strategies can cultivate a sense of belonging for students of color, help instructors respond holistically to student needs, and maximize student strengths and assets, which can improve educational outcomes for students of color while acknowledging the structural and historical legacies of racism.

The CTE CoLab initiative is working with 12 selected community and technical colleges to assess, identify, and implement student support services that center racial equity, as part of a broader goal to reduce disparities in academic and career outcomes for students of color in online CTE programs.

In collaboration with five national partner organizations that have provided coaching, technical assistance, and research-informed insights through the CTE CoLab, we’ve identified three equity-conscious strategies that can help advance educational opportunities and outcomes for students of color and other underrepresented student groups. These strategies are just one part of the solution to address past harms that reproduce unequal outcomes for students of color, especially those who are Black, Latinx, or Indigenous.

Strategy 1: Self-assessment of existing equity practices

To identify strengths and gaps in equity-conscious student support and engagement efforts, college teams completed an equity self-assessment. The assessment invited teams to reflect on how, if at all, their CTE programs were engaging in the following practices:

  • Providing a program-specific orientation by introducing students to program faculty and staff, available support services, program format and expectations, opportunities for work-based learning, and postcompletion employment.
  • Learning about each students’ unique needs by getting to know their past education, employment, family and work responsibilities, and lived experiences to incorporate into culturally responsive career advising and instruction.
  • Assessing digital skills and access to devices and tech support when helping students choose courses and programs.
  • Incorporating student feedback in decisionmaking by continually seeking student perspectives on course content, instruction, career exploration, exposure activities, and their overall experience in the program to inform curriculum, instruction, and advising approaches.
  • Normalizing and encouraging help seeking by providing information on student support services and resources, including health, well-being, academic, financial, and basic needs supports, as well as resources for students with disabilities.

Although many participating CoLab colleges incorporated some aspects of these practices, a systematic, intentional approach when developing equity-conscious supports for postsecondary learners is necessary to make significant progress, especially when learning takes place online.

Strategy 2: Guiding questions for colleges to address equity gaps

Redesigning programs, pedagogy, and student support with racial equity at the center is a complex process of learning, relearning, reflection, and evaluation. We encourage any colleges undertaking this work to ask these questions of themselves and their work as they design and implement equity-conscious supports:

  1. How can the student support and engagement strategies help achieve broader racial equity goals?
  2. What makes these strategies equity conscious?
  3. Who stands to benefit from these strategies?
  4. Could there be unintended consequences? If so, for whom? How can they be mitigated?
  5. What institutional policies and assets are in place to support the implementation of this strategy?
  6. How will your college seek input from students of color to design and provide support in a way that’s empowering and asset based, rather than deficit based?

Similarly, the Racial Equity Impact Analysis is an assessment tool colleges can use to reflect on and guide their work.

Strategy 3: Implementing support services that foster racial equity

Equipped with insights and reflections from the self-assessment, CTE CoLab college teams are launching new and enhanced student support and engagement strategies, designed intentionally and in conjunction with other equity practices as part of an Equity Action Plan.

The purpose of the action planning process is to identify goals and strategies aimed at closing racial equity gaps. Through the action planning process, colleges have identified the following as equity-conscious student support strategies:

  • opportunities for connecting students of color with mentors on campus and at industry partner workplaces
  • peer support and networking among students of color
  • proactive advising informed by an understanding of students’ career interests and orientations that deepen students’ connection to their programs and institution
  • use of surveys and focus groups to understand the experiences of students of color with the aim of informing program design and professional development
  • partnerships with community organizations that serve communities of color

By developing or piloting each of these equity-conscious strategies, colleges can help ensure that students of color and students from other underrepresented groups have the best chance to succeed.

To learn more about the CTE CoLab, the work of participating colleges, and resources related to holistic student supports and other strategies for advancing racial equity goals, visit our toolbox.


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Research Areas Education
Tags Higher education Inequities in educational achievement Racial equity in education School-based partnerships and services Job training Postsecondary education and training Technology and future of learning and training Workforce development Youth development Youth employment and training
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center
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