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Opinion: What’s the difference between equality, equity?

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There is a big distinction between equality and equity.

According to Dr. Charles H.F. Davis III of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, equality references input – we all receive the same. Whereas, equity references output – we all have the same outcome.

In the past three months, I attended the following conferences: The Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development Equity Summit, American Planners Association Quad State Conference and the St. Louis Graduates’ Advancing Racial Equity in Higher Education Institute. All three conferences shared a focus on equity. Why is equity important for our community and our state?

In the Missouri Constitution, Article I, Section 2 reads, “That all constitutional government is intended to promote the general welfare of the people; that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry; that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunities under the law; that to give security to these things is the principal office of government, and that when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design.”

I believe we are at a crossroads in our nation, and in our community, to look at inequitable systems and policies that do not provide the same outcomes for all. It is important to understand how current policies and systems were created in order to ask the questions: What was the original intent when the policy and system was created? Who was historically not included? And how can we make ecosystems more equal and equitable?

Missouri Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan’s office established a statewide equity committee to work with her staff to produce the first Equity in Missouri Higher Education Report. The report is a tool to inform and inspire action across the state to address equity in education beyond high school. A starting point to make ecosystems more equitable can happen when we can see differences in access and progress based on race, age, economic background, geography and gender.

The report focuses on disparities as a result of systemic barriers to postsecondary access, progress and attainment. The report identified educational disparities that must be eliminated for underserved and underrepresented populations to achieve Missouri’s big goal for higher education. The goal is the same in the Springfield area: to have 60% of working-age adults holding a high-quality postsecondary credential by 2025. Addressing equity will increase the number of potential individuals in hiring pools for employers.

Economic research indicates that for each additional year of education, one should see a 10% increase in wages.

According to research conducted by the St. Louis Talent Hub, those with family incomes not exceeding $30,000 spend 57% of their income to attend a higher education public institution.

Comparatively, a family income range of $48,000 to $75,000 pays 19% of their income. For family income of $110,000 and above, they pay about 9% of their income. Gov. Mike Parson’s new Fast Track program is a great example of addressing equity by providing an adult financial aid program to help individuals complete credentials. A focus on equity is another way for employers to address their hiring needs.

From information received at all three conferences, some of the best ways to address inequalities is to review and analyze policies by starting with an area where there are challenges and use disaggregated data to work on the issue with the greatest disparity.

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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