Equitable Student Success in Higher Education: Transforming the Organizational Mindset | Teachers College Press

By: Linda Dale Bloomberg

Linda Dale Bloomberg serves as Associate Director of Faculty Support and Development and Full Professor of Education in the School of Education at Northcentral University in San Diego. Dr. Bloomberg received her PhD in 2006 from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she completed the AEGIS program in Adult and Organizational Learning. Her new book is Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners.

Part 1: Defining Student Success

Student success is increasingly tied to equity-focused policies and practices that reduce achievement gaps at the postsecondary level. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we implement teaching strategies that promote equity, access, inclusivity and a sense of belonging for all learners, including those from cultural backgrounds. diverse and minority or under-represented groups. This must be central to our quest to establish inclusive and equitable learning experiences for our diverse learner populations, especially as learning contexts continue to rapidly diversify across online and hybrid formats. This blog is the first part of a two-part series on equitable student success in higher education. The following blog is titled Leverage organizational capacity to achieve transformation goals, and will be released shortly, so stay tuned!

In 2021 I published Designing and Delivering Effective Online Education: How to Engage an Adult To learners, with a strong focus on equity and inclusion. I also recently took a course offered by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education,Ensuring Equitable Student Success in Higher Education which was designed to provide higher education leaders with the tools and strategies needed to generate equitable outcomes for all students. The major disruptions of recent years continue to reshape the education landscape and have brought racial and socio-economic inequalities into higher education institutions into sharper focus – upending student lives, deepening the digital divide and lowering rates. of perseverance. Ensuring equitable student achievement is a central goal of education at all levels, particularly in terms of finding ways to support minority students and students from underserved populations. This effort is indeed becoming an imperative if we are to effectively meet the needs of today’s constantly changing and increasingly diverse student populations.

Transformation is about ensuring equitable student success.

Transformation, at its most basic level, involves eliminating race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of completion and success. Transformation requires thought and focus, and is best supported by beginning with a universally understood student-centered mission that drives the creation of a student experience with equitable outcomes and educational value. In this context, the work also requires institutions to design inclusive practices and create learning environments that genuinely facilitate student success.

Establish a definition of student success

Many institutions may have a strategic focus on equitable student success; however, they still struggle to define it. The difficulty in defining, let alone sustaining student success, makes promises that may have started with grand intentions unlikely to be realized. How success is defined impacts policy and practice and ultimately student outcomes. Definitions of success will impact how researchers choose to measure the concept, which in turn will impact how the data is interpreted and therefore the recommendations offered. These recommendations will hopefully have real impacts on student outcomes in higher education in the form of changes in policies or practices, including curriculum development, pedagogy, assessment and requirements. departments.

The phrase “student success” generally refers to students reaping the promised benefits of their learning experience. As highlighted by Kinzie and Kuh (2017), phase can also encompass a combination of institutional and student actions to achieve desired outcomes, including achievement levels, persistence rates, achievement metrics, degree, content knowledge acquisition, mastery and skill development, analytical reasoning, post-graduate employment and income. Weatherton and Schussler (2021) point to historically hegemonic conceptualizations of “student success” and call on researchers to carefully examine their definitions of success and associated measures with a clear focus on diversity and inclusion, to embrace a more holistic view and to fully reflect on the impact of their conceptions of success on their research. Additionally, as these authors point out, it is essential to make room for and solicit the voice of students, and to ensure that student advocacy is integrated into all planning, implementation and evaluation; thus strengthening student agency and engagement in learning.

Establishing a Conceptual Framework for Student Success

There is an ever-growing body of theories, empirical research, and practical strategies related to student success, with a focus on supporting diverse students and increasing “equity-conscious” practice. Yet institutions do not always effectively implement a conceptual framework to develop and test improvement theories and to clarify and articulate what is needed to achieve their student success goals (Bloomberg, 2021). As Kinzie and Kuh (2017) aptly put it: “To achieve better student success outcomes, a redesigned student success framework is needed, grounded in evidence-informed policies and practices that explicitly recognize the various institutional missions, educational objectives, and organizational arrangements” (p. 20). Additionally, Baum and McPherson (2019) highlight the need to better understand how students learn, how to develop and support effective teaching at the college level, and how to ensure we are really educate students, not just by providing them with credentials. A redesigned framework for student success incorporates greater focus on institutional responsibility to actualize student success, the promotion of equity-conscious practices across the institution, and a clearer focus on critical elements involved in both achieving and evaluating student success. Figure 1 illustrates the key elements involved in developing a broad initiative that meaningfully addresses a framework for equitable student success.

FIGURE 1: The Strategic Triangle (adapted from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Institutes for Higher Education)

Transformation begins and accelerates by asking tough questions

Keep asking about the culture, structure, and business models, and how you plan to engage and support students from enrollment through completion. This means focusing on an established vision and mission at the forefront of equity and student success. It also means actively considering the background and lived experiences of students enrolled in our programs. Intentional and sustained engagement in equity work means continuing to seek dialogue with collaborating colleagues and stakeholder partners, and asking the hard questions:

  • What does success look like? How do we define success? And, how do students define success for themselves?
  • How do we measure student learning? How do we measure success? What are the shared and agreed criteria?
  • What prevents students from progressing and succeeding? What challenges can hinder success? How are these challenges mitigated?
  • What student supports exist and how are those supports designed to mitigate dropouts and prevent dropouts from occurring?
  • What resources are needed? How does the institution allocate resources (human resources/talent and funding) in light of the proposed plans?
  • How prepared are staff and faculty to do the job? Are they receiving appropriate support and professional development?
  • Are programs designed with post-graduation success in mind?


Baum, S. & McPherson, M. (2019). Improving teaching: strengthening the learning experience in college. The American Academy of Arts & Sciences Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0) https://doi.org/10.1162/DAED_e_01757https://www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/publication/downloads /Daedalus_Introduction_Fall2019_0.pdf

Bloomberg, LD (2021). Designing and Delivering Effective Online Education: How to Engage Adult Learners. Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

This publication has been nominated for the 2021 and 2022 Division of Distance Learning (DDL) from the Association of Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), one of the leading international instructional design and ed-tech organizations.

Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Institutes for Higher Education, Strategic Triangle Worksheet (2022).

Kinzie, J. & Kuh, G. (2017). Reframing student success in college: advancing know-how and changing know-how. The Higher Education Magazine, 49.3, 19-27. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00091383.2017.1321429

Weatherton, M. & Schussler, EE (2021). Success for all? A call to re-examine how student success is defined in higher education. CBE Life Sci Educ. Spring 2021; 20(1): es3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8108506/

picture by Brett Jordan from Pexels

Aubrey L. Morgan