‘Equity as a precondition of excellence’: Commission releases 2030 blueprint for undergraduate education

If U.S. universities want to strive for excellence and regain public trust, they must prioritize equity and inclusion, says a new report by the Boyer 2030 Commission, a group of education, philanthropic, and business leaders convened by the Association for Undergraduate Education at Research Universities. The Equity-Excellence Imperative: A 2030 Blueprint for Undergraduate Education at U.S. Research Universities updates recommendations made in the 1990s by the original Boyer Commission, which became blueprints for modern undergraduate education, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

According to the commission, today’s higher education institutions need to adapt to meet the diverse needs of the millions of students now facing deepening social divisions and inequities, fractured democratic norms, a climate emergency, a mental health crisis, and growing public disaffection with higher education. To ensure that all students have the resources they need to thrive on campus and become engaged citizens, universities must commit to both equity and excellence.

Related: Summer Institute brings together dozens of colleges, universities working toward educational equity >

“Defining excellence in terms of equity rather than, for example, selectivity and sorting, unsettles at least 70 years of practice,” the authors of the report say. However, “the U.S. can continue to lead the world in higher education and fulfill its public mission only by realizing equity as a precondition of excellence.”

Meeting undergraduates where they are

While most college students identify racially as white, undergraduate enrollment at four-year institutions has become more racially and ethnically diverse, the authors note at the beginning of the report. Yet, equity gaps persist: in particular, six-year graduation rates for Black and Latinx students are significantly lower than they are for white college students. Pell Grant students’ enrollment and six-year completion rates across four-year institutions have also decreased in recent years.

To support the success of research universities’ most vulnerable students, including low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color, the report calls attention to 11 areas where U.S. universities should focus to boost completion rates, prepare students for meaningful civic participation, and ensure students’ career and world readiness.

Those areas, or what the authors call “provocations,” include providing academic, career, and basic needs guidance and introducing career opportunities that are reinforced throughout students’ undergraduate experience and incorporated into core curricula and general education courses.

Related: Department of Education announces college completion grants, calls for greater focus on equity >

In addition to suggesting approaches to equitable teaching and learning and ways to foster belonging through mental well-being, the report identifies several strategies institutions can implement to improve educational access and affordability:

  • Confirm prospective students, especially first-generation students, understand how “cost of attendance” can differ from the “sticker price” 
  • Ensure all students also have visibility into the cost of summer courses, hidden course fees, and travel and living expenses, and that they are advised about what financial aid will cover
  • Help students manage college costs by verifying that undergraduate degrees can be completed within four years without taking summer classes or going beyond the standard number of courses/credits per semester, add-ons that can be difficult and inadvisable for students from under-resourced communities or low- and middle-income families
  • Lower financial barriers to education by shifting institutional aid from merit- to need-based aid and by studying the role dual enrollment plays both in encouraging high school students to see themselves in college and reducing the cost of a degree
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