University of Houston: Gulf Coast Area Colleges, Universities Collaborate to Address Equity Gaps Among Students

Student success is at the heart of Houston Guided Pathways to Success (Houston GPS), a consortium of Gulf Coast-Houston metro area universities and community colleges working together to help students graduate on time and without excess credit hours or additional debt.

Now, Houston GPS expands its support of students by addressing those equity gaps that create barriers to success in the classroom and ultimately, to graduating. With the support of $900,000 in grants, the Houston GPS Equity Walk Initiative focuses on driving policy and practice changes to help close those gaps.

Grants provided by Greater Texas Foundation, Houston Endowment, The Kresge Foundation, The Powell Foundation and Trellis Foundation are supporting 10 partner institutions in their efforts to improve success and completion rates for students from all walks of life.

Institutions participating in the Houston GPS Equity Walk Initiative include: University of Houston, Texas Southern University, University of Houston-Clear Lake, University of Houston-Downtown, University of Houston-Victoria, Alvin Community College, Galveston College, Houston Community College District, Lone Star College System, and San Jacinto Community College District. They are all among the most diverse institutions of higher education in the nation and hold designations as Minority Serving Institutions and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

“Houston GPS was launched to ensure that more Houstonians realize their dreams of earning bachelor’s degrees. Through the new Equity Walk Initiative, each of the participating colleges and universities can step up their respective efforts in helping students reach the finish line with degrees in hand,” said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

The initiative places the onus on Houston GPS colleges and universities to ensure that they both “talk the talk” and as the project’s title indicates “walk the walk” when it comes to providing equitable outcomes for students—including examining institutional policies, practices, and structures through a lens that uncovers why inequities exist, and creating opportunities for innovation when addressing student success.

In addition to $900,000 in grants, the Equity Walk Initiative is assisted by the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center. The center is providing guidance to participating colleges and universities and assisting in data analysis across their respective campuses.

“Partnering with the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center, we have the expertise to guide and facilitate our work,” Short added.

National studies acknowledge significant disparities among marginalized student populations. A report from the American Council on Education indicates that Black students graduate with more debt. Author and higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz writes that two-thirds of college dropouts are low-income students. And the National Center for Education Statistics reports that first-generation students are less likely to graduate on time.

Those are among the gaps the participating institutions hope to close through the Houston GPS Equity Walk Initiative. In doing so, the 10 colleges and universities are focusing their energies on implementing strategic equity projects in the following areas:

Data Dashboards to help identify their respective equity gaps and and provide a roadmap toward specific goals.
Professional Development and Training for faculty and staff on topics such as teaching and learning, curriculum development, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and implicit bias.
Faculty and Staff Recruitment and Retention to address issues such as hiring and retaining employees of color.
Programs Supporting Student Onboarding and Transition to assist diverse student communities in enrolling and adjusting to new learning environments.
Student Support Programming to enhance institutions’ respective initiatives focused on direct-supports for minority and underserved student populations.
In preparing for these projects, leadership teams from Houston GPS institutions were engaged in an Equity Leadership Academy for Institutional Teams in spring and summer 2021 and an Equity Leadership Forum for Executive Teams beginning earlier this year.

Nicole McDonald, UH assistant vice provost for student success, is steering this project. She said that this initiative arrives at the right time, particularly as the pandemic revealed much about the needs of students.

“Over the past two years, we have learned much about how fragile our communities are and their vulnerabilities with regard to economic resources and safety,” McDonald said. “As we look at these challenges across our region, there are opportunities for Houston GPS institutions to make a real difference in the lives of students.”

Houston GPS was conceived and developed by Provost Short with the goal of increasing and accelerating student completion and easing the transfer process from community colleges to universities. It aligns with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60x30TX plan to ensure that 60% of Texas adults between the ages of 25 and 34 earn a degree or certificate by 2030.

Houston GPS assists approximately 300,000 students throughout the Houston area. In addition to the universities involved in the Equity Walk Initiative, Houston GPS institutions include Prairie View A&M University, College of the Mainland and Wharton County Junior College.

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