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A new report on the barriers to equity in Higher Education reveals a need for institutions to differentiate student support for disadvantaged students and cohorts. The report, published by The Every Learner Everywhere network highlights the issues with aggregating students from disadvantaged groups into a single category.  

Students may be disadvantaged due to racial, ethnic or economic factors but each group experience unique challenges in education. In the US, these students experience significant variations with admissions, course-level outcomes and digital learning, as well as persistence, graduation, and career success. Underrepresented cohorts in Higher Ed also suffer lower retention and completion rates than their more advantaged peers. As a result, it is important for educators to acknowledge the differences in barriers to equity, disaggregate student data and provide more targeted support. 

The report adds to the growing research on barriers to equity for disadvantaged groups in Higher Education. Evidence indicates that racially, ethnic or economically disadvantaged students are less likely to succeed in Higher Education.

Widening Participation – What Should Institutions Do? 

Best practice in widening participation for disadvantaged students in Higher or Further Education, is to ensure visibility and support. Institutions need to enact holistic and proactive support programs to address the individualized needs of underrepresented students.

To improve visibility of disadvantaged groups, institutions should focus on student case management. Modern technology and predictive learning analytics allow institutions to keep track of their underrepresented cohorts. Identify student’s individual needs and disadvantages, and ensure they don’t get lost under an aggregated heading. Tag students depending on their background including first-generation, BAME, low-income or students with a disability.  

Additionally, using a data driven system improves the quality of support staff can offer underrepresented students. This helps drive proactive support services, helping students all the way from enrollment to graduation. Appropriate staff can easily search underrepresented students and check in on their wellbeing, academic progress, or financial aid requirements. Furthermore, monitoring engagement data means staff will be automatically alerted if a student is at-risk or in need of support.

Implementing a data driven student success system, ensures no student is left unseen or unsupported. This is the best approach for institutions to improve success outcomes such as student retention and completion rates for underrepresented cohorts in Higher Education.

For more on widening participation, check out our solutions page.