College is only four years, but a lot can happen in that amount of time. Most students struggle to graduate on time, whether it is due to getting off course because of life problems, switching majors, or simply feeling overwhelmed with making college decisions. Some students do not even manage to graduate at all, and it is a concern at WCU. The statistics in these two areas are being closely watched, and WCU is focused on finding solutions to closing the equity gaps that cause these problems for students.
On WCU’s campus, various departments help run the Equity Matters campaign. What is the Equity Matters campaign really about? It’s the commitment to closing the persistent achievement gaps between students due to ethnicity and income.
Last week, the Council for Diversity, Inclusion, and Academic Excellence as well as the Retention/Graduation committee teamed up to give a presentation that was useful to both professors and students about being aware of issues that pertain to diversity.
WCU prides itself on being a diverse campus, and sometimes within those diversities are minorities that seem to either fall behind or face barriers. One of the ways that the presenters talked about lessening the barriers was doing away with application fees.
The first issue touched upon was announced by keynote speaker and program director of Education Delivery Institute, Ellyn Artis, who said, “It’s not about why students make poor decisions; it’s about why we as administrators take it by surprise.”
The key phrase of the presentation was that graduation rates and equity gaps were “everyone’s business.” This idea of the welfare of WCU’s students being “everyone’s business” was said to be just that – the job of everyone; including not only administrators, but students too.
America is one of the only countries where older people are more likely to have credentials than younger people, and in our growing society that is simply not acceptable. While WCU has a 68.8 percent graduation rate, equity gaps still exist. Some steps that were considered useful to administrators were to use data to understand barriers, clarify pathways for students to progress easier, ensure consistent and accurate communication, and make it “everyone’s business.”
The most important part about having a goal is having a plan to deliver the goal. One of the worst ways to fall into an equity gap is by being undeclared in one’s major. “Without a declared major, students are missing an academic home,” said Artis. It only becomes harder for students to navigate college, leaving it easy for them to become confused and hopeless.
Another way to help students, as pointed out by an administrator in the audience, is to take note of how different ways of phrasing things to students can make them open to receiving help. It was said that more students respond positively to a simple “how’s it going?” rather than “do you need help?” Although much of the presentation was centered around statistics and strategies that professionals can do to help lessen equity gaps as educators, there was still a lot of students in the audience.
When it came time for Q&A, students were left wondering what it was they could do to help.
Students found that what they could do to help was make sure their student leaders are well informed. Student Government is crucial to the well-being of the student body because they have the largest voice, and that organization also has the money and power to affect change.
The students on campus are the ones paying for their education, and they are the ones that know firsthand the bottlenecks that occur on campus, much more so than any administrator.
There is power in students’ collectiveness, and students have to make it known to advisors or professors when they are having trouble getting the classes that they need, or if they feel they’re not being offered enough intellectual stimulation and exploration.
It is only through the necessary teamwork of both students and administrators that graduation rates will increase and equity gaps will close.
Kirsty Palo is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at KP762793@wcupa.edu.