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how does ISSAQ address equity?

For any college or university, all of the programs, services, and courses offered interact to create one system. Students enter that system, engage with various curricular and cocurricular experiences, and hopefully graduate. But far too often, that system doesn't yield sufficient rates of success, or those rates are relatively low among certain "traditionally underserved populations" (e.g., first-generation students, student veterans, students from certain minority groups). This is where equity comes into play: how can we ensure that all students have the best chance to succeed?

AT DIA, we approach the equity question from two perspectives. 

1. THE STUDENT-LEVEL QUESTION: How can I support students from traditionally underserved populations to help them better navigate this system of higher education (i.e., at my institution)?


2. THE INSTITUTION-LEVEL QUESTION: How can I change this system of higher education to be more amenable to success for students from diverse backgrounds?​

Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire | |

Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire | |


The terms "data" and "assessment" don't generally tie to concepts of equity, but ISSAQ actually links them closely. This all starts by using data to better understand students, their experiences, and their rates of success at a given institution. In doing so, we can guide tailored supports - based on local data - for students from traditionally underserved populations. Some of the ISSAQ components that support this goal are:

  • A holistic assessment plan doesn't just identify students as coming from a traditionally underserved population, but seeks to understand the challenges and strengths that students from these various populations bring. Holistic assessment uses noncognitive skills to articulate student strengths and challenges and accompanying data to develop a localized understanding of what students bring to college.

  • Predictive analytics provide a second tool to understanding the experiences of students from various backgrounds. A "strengths and challenges" approach to equity can identify differences in the attributes of students from traditionally underserved populations. For example, "do first-generation students have lower levels of academic self-efficacy when entering college?" However, questions such as these are not the entire story when it comes to equity and student success. A second and important question might be, "does self-efficacy relate to success more for first-generation college students?" In this way, predictive analytics help us to see what factors matter more or less to students from varying backgrounds.

  • Training staff, faculty, and administrators in holistic support is really about building a process by which we better connect with students to help them succeed. This is where the rubber of data meets the road of practice. By working with faculty, staff, and administrators, the ISSAQ helps to build touch-points where the lessons from holistic assessment and predictive analytics can help not only identify strengths and challenges, but discuss those with students and connect them with the supports necessary for success.



Certainly, there are times when we can identify skills or strategies that students need in order to be more successful (e.g., study skills, goal commitment, social connection), and this is where the student-level approach is helpful. However, as we seek to address equity, one of the challenges becomes avoiding a "deficit approach" to student success. In other words, when possible, we should look at our institutions, their cultures, and their practices to identify a system of higher education that better fosters success. ISSAQ seeks to address this process through:

  • Holistic support is as much an institutional shift in culture and practice as it is an intervention for supporting students. By providing training to those individuals who will be working with students, the ISSAQ provides operational support to a strategic mission of equity.

  • Mapping strategy and process is what makes aspirational goals reality. For example, when institutions want to engage in better student support through coaching or advising, it is vital (and often overlooked) to understand practical steps such as when that will take place, who needs to be involved, and how that will be communicated to students. This also fosters communication with faculty and staff so that they can understand how holistic support will come to life.

  • Building a culture of inquiry is directly aligned with DIA's commitment to continuous improvement. While data provide the capacity to understand students, by asking questions about students' experiences and our impact upon them we can continually strive to meet our goals. ISSAQ provides regular and transparent reviews of data that allow all faculty and staff to engage in the conversation about continuous improvement.

While equity is something to which we should all strive, we also need a strategy for how to get there. ISSAQ addresses this through many practices, and seeks to build institutional strategies and cultures that meet students where they are, regardless of where they come from. 

To learn more about ISSAQ, simply complete the contact form below with "ISSAQ" in the subject.

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