Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly

Advancing research in enrollment and student success


Equity and SEM

November 2023
Editor's Note

Clayton Smith, Ed.D.


Equity is the most critical issue of our time. In the next decade, higher education in North America and beyond will concern itself increasingly with addressing equity, inclusion, diversity, and decolonization. To effectively do this, we will need to reach out and collaborate with colleagues throughout higher education, both in the United States and globally, and not just those who engage in enrollment management and academic services, but also those who teach and support our students throughout their educational journeys. This special issue (our first!) of SEM Quarterly speaks to how SEM practitioners are engaging with colleagues throughout the academy to create connections between SEM and equity.

We start off with a systematized literature review on the intersection of SEM and equity. Keith Connell and Clayton Smith present a systematized review that goes through a critical analysis and synthesis process to explore the intersection between SEM and equity, diversity, inclusion, and decolonization in postsecondary educational institutions. They provide implications for improving and increasing the enrollment, academic, and post-graduation success of members of marginalized communities and introduce SEM and equity topics that merit further research study.

We have long known that inequities underlie all of American social institutions, including higher education. David Kalsbeek explores the role of SEM analytics, suggesting that the equity-minded SEM leader will use constant self-criticism and regular self-examination to advance institutional equity and diversity outcomes while achieving shared accountability. He outlines some of the ways an equity-minded approach to SEM analytics can address historical inequities in higher educational institutions.

One of the demographic categories we have been concerned with in recent years is minority male students. Bryan Bell, John “JJ” Evans, and Heather Taynor share the results of a longitudinal cohort study that compares course completion and persistence rates of minority males at eleven community colleges. They found that the use of dedicated success coaches and a technology-based retention solution improves the course completion and persistence rates of minority male students.

American Indian/Alaskan Native students face a college-going and college completion crisis. Lisa Silverstein, Tiffany Gusbeth, and Jonathan Breaker describe the native student journey at tribal colleges and universities as way of introducing an Indigenous approach to SEM. They find that by Indigenizing SEM and building capacity centered on the unique cultural values inherent in tribal colleges and universities, we can increase American Indian and Alaska Natives visibility, representation, and degree attainment in higher education.

While holistic admissions hold great promise for identifying and admitting students with a variety of experiences and skill sets, holistic admissions processes are often vaguely defined, and their use in practice remains underdeveloped. Teresa Ober, Olasumbo Oluwalana, Huidi Yang, and Reginald Gooch present two studies that examine holistic admissions procedures in graduate degree programs that highlight the importance of considering multiple dimensions of applicants’ qualifications, experiences, and alignment with institutional values in holistic admissions processes. They suggest that by incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities and continuously evaluating the effectiveness of holistic admissions plans, we can enroll a more diverse and successful student body.

Individuals with disabilities and chronic illnesses face challenges in higher education and career progression. Whitney West and Iman Riddick argue that implementing operational improvements in higher education to enhance the experience of students, staff, and faculty with disabilities and chronic illness requires a multifaced approach that addresses physical and architectural barriers, limited access to accommodations and support services, stigma, discrimination, and lack of awareness, and intersectionality and multiple marginalized identities. By implementing these initiatives, institutions can enhance the sense of belonging and inclusivity for all members of the postsecondary community.

One of the most pressing and threatening concerns to higher education is the dismantling of diversity, equity, and inclusion at our postsecondary institutions, but there is still time to bring equity back to the center of the work we do. Allyson Brown and Keith James provide a practitioner’s approach to creating equity and inclusion in the enrollment management culture that calls for implementing a multi-layered inclusive strategy as a way to be proactive in decreasing reactive tactics to navigating potential recruitment challenges that includes identifying opportunity points, conducting anti-bias training, and cultivating sustainable practices.

Recommendation letters and the other components of the application portfolio, such as personal statements, are intended to make admissions decisions more equitable by providing contextual information that admissions officers need to fairly evaluate applicants. However, unevenness in the quantity and quality of contextual data supplied across applicants often impacts the holistic review process. Tara Nicola, Mandy Savitz-Romer, and Julius DiLorenzo provide a literature review that allows us to reimagine “a broken system” that highlights promising practices and policies for better leveraging letters to promote equity in the undergraduate admissions context.

College admissions recruiters play an essential role in shaping the future of the student body at postsecondary institutions to ensure that it is inclusive, equitable, and supportive of all students. One critical factor that impacts the work of admissions recruiters is their positionality, which can influence how they understand and interact with various student populations. Jairo McMican and Sade Comiska contend that college recruiters should develop positionality awareness so that they can recognize the ways in which their identities, experiences, and biases shape their perspectives and interactions with prospective students.

Let me conclude by sharing two quotes. The first is from former U.S. president Jimmy Carter: “We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” And the second is from Marco Bizzarri, CEO of Gucci: “Diversity and inclusion, which are the real grounds for creativity, must remain at the center of what we do.” The first is about acknowledging our diversity, and second is about embracing it in everything we do. We must do both if we are dedicated to the work of enrollment management in the 21st century.

Happy reading.

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