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Opinion: The intersection of equity, excellence in talent game

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Most employers have an advantage for growing talent because they already have employees with a “working-going” ethic.

Employees in entry-level positions generally go to work every day. They have basic math, reading and writing skills, and they have good interpersonal skills with peers and leaders. What they may not have is the opportunity to develop the job skills needed for higher paying positions. In many cases, the lack of opportunity is blamed on the individual and not the system that created the inequities. Equity and excellence are key elements to meet the needs of our community, the state and the nation.

A focus on equity means recognition for the need to eliminate disparities in educational outcomes for students from historically underserved populations. Springfield can reduce the widening gap of postsecondary attainment for American Indians, African Americans and “Latinx” (a gender-neutral term to recognize all Latin and Hispanic populations) by creating opportunities to share resources and empower adult learners for success. For example, Missouri State University has used the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Making Excellence Inclusive guiding principles in the school’s long-range plan. Other community organizations – including the Springfield Public Entities Diversity Work Group, comprising the city, Springfield Public Schools, City Utilities and Community Partnership of the Ozarks – have adopted the AACU framework as well. The goal is to provide a clear, flexible and transparent pathway to help students and adult learners achieve postsecondary credentials.

With an equity and excellence framework, our community can be assured that high-quality learning aligns with 21st century personal and workforce needs. Springfield is creating a stronger ecosystem for higher education institutions, public institutions and local businesses to increase attainment and close the gaps. An example is in 2018 when MSU unveiled five cost-saving measures that impacted equity and increased excellence. The university reduced hours needed to complete bachelor’s degrees; expanded scholarships; froze housing rates; lowered the increase in meal prices; and provided less expensive textbook options.

How did MSU know which policies to target for these changes? School officials used data to drive their approach to change. Here’s how:

1. Set universal goals that could be achieved through targeted approaches (e.g., increase retention and six-year on time graduation rates).

2. Measured the overall population (e.g., total number of students attending MSU that would persist to the next year and total number of students that should graduate in six years).

3. Measured performance of population segments (e.g., disaggregated the data by race/ethnicity, Pell Grant eligible and first in family to attend college).

4. Understood the groups provided above to determine factors and structures that may impede reaching the goal.

5. Implemented targeted strategies so each group could achieve the goals.

This type of model allows individuals with a desire to achieve to do so even when there could be a history of inequities that may have made it challenging for underserved populations to access quality educational opportunities. With an intentional and focused effort, Springfield can create ecosystems with an inclusive excellence change model woven through the private, public and social sectors of the community. Redesigned systems create pathways to meet the demands for postsecondary skills and knowledge for long-term sustainable results.

Additional education beyond high school is the core element for civic, social and economic success. Springfield is designing systems to value pathways to meet individuals where they are so the entire community – regardless of race/ethnicity, income or socioeconomic status – can succeed.

Francine Pratt is director of Prosper Springfield, a poverty reduction initiative led by Community Partnership of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks. She can be reached at fpratt@cpozarks.org.

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