This blog was originally published on act.org on July 2.
Throughout ACT’s 60 year history, we’ve maintained that everyone has the potential to learn—and that a student’s background or family income should not determine their educational or career opportunities. In fact, this belief was the impetus for ACT’s creation, and still serves as the heart of everything we do. We exist to help students of every background show what they know and find their fit in college and career. Thankfully, we’re not alone in working to level the playing field of opportunity.
Students from underserved backgrounds, who represent nearly half (43 percent) of ACT-tested 2018 U.S. high school graduates, are defined as students who:
- would be the first generation in their family to attend college;
- come from low-income families; and/or
- self-identify as members of under-represented racial/ethnic minorities.
ACT research suggests that students with any of these three characteristics are less likely than others to have access to high-quality educational and career planning opportunities and resources.
ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning was created to close these kinds of gaps in equity, opportunity, and achievement among students from underserved backgrounds through partnerships, research, and initiatives. To reach as many students as possible, partnerships with other mission-aligned organizations are critical.
In other words, we can’t champion “equity in learning” alone, which is why, from day one, we’ve joined forces with a diverse array of partners in the belief that we are stronger together.
Through our relationships with partners, we are better able to reach and impact the populations that need us the most. These include:
- Better Make Room. This initiative, created by former First Lady Michelle Obama as part of the Reach Higher Initiative, targets Gen Z students, particularly those who are first generation, to celebrate education, change the national conversation, and reach students directly where they are by giving them a space to create content and navigate the college-going process. The Center has supported these efforts by participating in the National College Signing Day activities that celebrate and empower students making their postsecondary decisions, and serving on the organization’s advisory board. We’ve also partnered with Better Make Room on Steps2College.
- American College Application Campaign (ACAC). This past January, ACAC moved to ACT from its previous home at the American Council on Education. This deepened relationship aims to further address the opportunity gap and last year provided more than 500,000 students in more than 7,000 high schools with support to navigate the college-going process. ACAC is active in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and we have ambitious plans to reach more and more students each year.
- Steps2College. In 2017, ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning brought together key stakeholders in the college-going process: ACAC, Better Make Room, National College Access Network, and American University’s Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success to examine and collaborate around the steps to college. The resulting resource, Steps2College.org walks through the major milestones in the college-going process, helping students, families, and counselors learn about important transitional milestones during a student’s final year of high school.
Other partnerships seek to provide leadership and support to other crucial stakeholders (like superintendents, counselors, and parents) in supporting students along their educational journeys. These include:
- Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS). ALAS aims to provide leadership at the national level that assures every school in America effectively serves the education needs of all students with an emphasis on Latino youth by building capacity, promoting best practices, and transforming educational institutions. The Center has supported ALAS’s efforts through the Superintendent Leadership Academy (SLA) which identifies and grows school and district leadership, with an eye to developing current and future leaders. These leaders convene for training throughout their cohort year, including a meeting on ACT’s campus. As a result, we’ve been able to work closely with ALAS leaders on numerous projects, focus groups, and initiatives.
- Univision. Our partnership with Univision is centered around the growing Latinx population in the U.S. and ensuring that Latinx students are prepared for college and career. We’ve worked closely with Univision in a variety of ways, including Parent Ferias, which are college fairs aimed at providing Latinx parents and families with information that helps Latinx youth prepare for all the steps along the college-going journey. Reaching thousands of families across the U.S. each year, these events are a practical way to ensure that our resources are getting directly into the hands of those who need them. Additionally, this year, we hosted a leadership roundtable centered on Latinx student success that featured panels and discussions with high-level education stakeholders at the Univision studios in Miami. These efforts strengthen ACT’s connection to the Latinx community and empower students and their families to achieve success.
- American Indian College Fund. The Center collaborated with the American Indian College Fund to promote the release of the Native Pathways College-Going Guidebook, a unique new culturally-relevant resource from the College Fund created to empower Native students to prepare, plan and successfully take the first steps of their higher education journey. We hosted a webinar with ACAC and the College Fund that shared the resource with hundreds of leaders who can ensure Native students receive the guidebook.
Similar to our partnerships, the Center aims to produce and distribute research that uncovers barriers to student success and provides policy recommendations to decision-makers and key stakeholders. We often partner with other organizations and researchers as well as departments across ACT as we explore topics critical to education equity, and encourage advocates to share our findings and recommendations with their networks. Some of our research includes:
- Our Student Access to Technology series, which includes three reports: “Rural Students: Technology, Coursework, and Extracurricular Activities,” “The Digital Divide and Educational Equity,” and “High School Students’ Access to and Use of Technology at Home and in School” examines the digital divide and its effects on underserved populations;
- “Dollars Rule Everything Around Me: College-Bound Students’ Views on Paying for College,” is a financial aid brief that takes a look at student perceptions around debt incurred for higher education;
- “Who Does Work Work For? Understanding Equity in Working Learner College and Career Success” explores the views and experiences of working learners; and
- “The Racial Heterogeneity Project: Implications for Educational Research, Practice and Policy” identifies the ways in which data disaggregation can be advantageous in looking at racial and ethnic student performance and success.
Equity has and always will be at the heart of ACT’s mission to help people achieve education and workplace success. But equity in learning is not achieved through one person, one organization, or even one generation of activists and advocates, alone. It will take all of us, continuing to work alongside one another to uncover and overcome the barriers to opportunity and provide field-tested, feasible solutions that help people along their journeys to college and career—and beyond.
So, the old adage is true: it takes a village to raise a child. And we couldn’t be more proud of the village we’ve built with other dedicated advocates and organizations. Here’s to 60 more years of providing opportunities to those who otherwise wouldn’t have gone to—or persisted through—college, and to the wonderful contributions they will make to the betterment of their communities and our society.