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Equity Scorecard team works to solve mystery of MSU Denver achievement gaps

The mystery is the graduation rate gaps among students of color and their white counterparts at MSU Denver, says Modern Languages Department Chair Lunden MacDonald. Potential answers are in the data.

November 13, 2013

By Leslie Petrovski

The mystery is the graduation rate gaps among students of color and their white counterparts at MSU Denver, says Modern Languages Department Chair Lunden MacDonald. Potential answers are in the data.

MacDonald is co-chair, along with Chicana/o Studies Department Chairman Ramon del Castillo, of MSU Denver’s 15-member evidence team that’s working on the University’s Equity Scorecard, a report that will provide data-derived hypotheses as to why students of color graduate at lower rates, as well as offer ideas on narrowing those gaps.

MSU Denver’s Equity Scorecard initiative is part of a larger state project—Equity in Excellence—that has paired the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education Center for Urban Education (CUE) and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) to support Colorado’s ambitious higher education agenda. That agenda involves producing more students with degrees and certificates and closing college achievement gaps. Equity in Excellence focuses on working with three urban institutions— the University of Colorado Denver, the Community College of Aurora and MSU Denver—and is funded by $1 million from the Ford Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In MSU Denver’s case, black students overall graduate within six years at a rate 8.1 percent lower than white students, while Latino students have a 1.4 percent lower six-year graduation rate than whites, says MacDonald.

“If we were to close those gaps and reach our goal of a 44 percent graduation rate for all students, then we would graduate 21 additional African American students and 60 more students in the Hispanic/Latino population per annual cohort,” she says.

MSU Denver’s Equity Scorecard work to address achievement gaps dovetails with goals outlined in the 2012-2017 Strategic Plan, the University’s performance contract with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the Hispanic Serving Institution Initiative.  

Using CUE’s Equity Scorecard process, team members last spring began drilling into MSU Denver’s data to see what they could learn about the University’s achievement gaps. When they looked at persistence, they found black students tend to leave school after their second or third years. Latino students suffer a persistence gap between the fourth year and the sixth year graduation mark.

Brainstorming about why this might be the case, the team identified two areas where interventions might produce results: required math classes and student services, including the First Year Success, Advising and Summer Scholars programs.

“We aren’t looking at any of these areas because they are at fault for retention gaps,” MacDonald said. “We’re looking at places that can shed light on questions like ‘Why are African American students leaving at the second year mark?’ What can they tell us about the data?”

Last summer, the Equity team divided in two, one to research educational core issues, the other to look at student services. In October, the teams shared their findings and developed questions for their second round of inquiry. The team will come together again in January and begin creating a report—MSU Denver’s Equity Scorecard—complete with tactical suggestions for addressing the achievement gaps. The report will be shared online on the MSU Denver website.

“What does MSU Denver get from this? We get the ethical win of providing equity for students who come into the institution and find a culture of intentionality about creating equity,” MacDonald says. “We are ensuring that we are meeting the ethical standards we say we represent.”

Look for continued updates on the process in @MSU Denver.

Learn more about the Equity Scorecard process