On April 21, 2017, the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) hosted a retreat on college access and completion at the Leonardo in Salt Lake City. Higher ed enthusiasts including USHE institution faculty, staff, and administrators, representatives from community and state organizations such as United Way and the Department of Workforce Services, and public ed supporters from the Utah State Board of Education, Ogden, Granite, and Nebo school districts attended retreat sessions organized across broad themes of access & equity, partnerships, pathways, and gateway courses.
These session themes were designed in order to compliment the Board of Regent’s ten-year strategic plan and focused specifically on sharing what USHE institutions are already doing to increase access for underrepresented populations, strengthen partnerships between K12 and higher education, further develop and streamline transfer pathways, and redesign high-enrolling and foundational gateway courses.
Dr. Julie Hartley, Assistant Commissioner for Academic & Student Affairs and division head of USHE’s Outreach & Access, welcomed participants to the retreat and highlighted areas that need our attention the most: increasing access and equity across our state, increasing retention and completion efforts for underrepresented populations (specifically low-income populations and students with limited English proficiency), and finding ways to better place students in the right math so that math becomes a gateway and not a barrier to student success.
Dr. Kyle Reyes, Chief Diversity Officer and Special Assistant to the President for Inclusion at Utah Valley University, gave the opening keynote address. The premise of his talk centered on this key question: “Have we considered how our students navigate the system [of higher education]?” Reyes expertly provided the audience with tools to have the conversations needed to improve access and equity across USHE campuses.
Dr. Jason Taylor, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership & Policy at the University of Utah, was the invited lunch plenary speaker. Taylor stated that education leads to success, but unfortunately, not equally for all. Taylor highlighted the studies he has done for his forthcoming book, which look at the effectiveness of efforts such as competency-based education, guided pathways, and performance-based funding models among others. While most initiatives he looked at lead toward positive change, that change was not always experienced by underrepresented groups.
Pathway sessions emphasized ways to create strong pathways from high school to college, presented by Granite school district and Utah State University, Tooele as well as creating pathways from high school to college, focusing on helping advise students into the right concurrent enrollment math and on what guided pathways might look like at Salt Lake Community College (guided or meta-major pathways are currently being worked on by several higher ed institutions and are currently still in design phase).
Partnership sessions looked at ways to create effective local college access network (LCANs) and the United Way demonstrated how a collective impact model can bring about big change.
Topics in access and equity sessions included addressing the needs of diverse students, and Sarah Pingle, from the Education Commission of the States, provided updates on policies around the country that focus on serving low- and middle-income students.
There were sessions revolving around efforts to redesign traditionally gatekeeper courses and turning them into gateway courses; both Utah State University and Utah Valley University are working on co-requisite remediation for high enrolling and high failure math courses, which, if successful, will place students who would have placed in developmental math directly into a quantitative literacy course with built-in support structures that counts toward quantitative literacy and pass that course within their first year. And Utah Valley University and Dixie State University reported on their progress to redesign students’ first year experiences on their campuses.
The retreat also provided an opportunity for teams to collaborate on ways to continually improve student learning and success and asked for institutional working groups to report back key takeaways and ways in which USHE can support institutional efforts to increase access and equity as well as scale up innovations tied to access and completion on their campuses.