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V6I1: NWCCU’s Data Equity Fellowship


Jess Stahl, Vice President, NWCCU

In August 2022, a pioneering group of 136 professionals from 55 institutions across 17 U.S. states and British Columbia embarked on a 12-month professional development journey as the inaugural cohort of the Data Equity Fellowship. The Data Equity Fellowship was offered in partnership with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), so Data Equity Fellows were able to learn from national (and international) colleagues. The Fellowship is designed as a virtual, 100% online experience so that geographic location would not present a barrier to participation, particularly for institutions in rural locations, limited travel funding, or limited time available for travel. Therefore, Fellowship teams represented diverse institutions: R1 universities, community and technical colleges, health professions- focused institutions, HBCU, TCU, HSI, faith-based, rural, and urban institutions.




The Data Equity Fellowship was inspired by recommendations from the national experts convened by NWCCU in 2021 as the Data Council (chaired by Dr. Timothy Renick, Executive Director of the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University) and its counterpart, the Equity Council (chaired by Dr. Tia Brown McNair, Vice President in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success and Executive Director for the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Centers at the American Association of Colleges and Universities). These recommendations centered on the need for facilitated, collaborative experiences bridging the domains of “data” and “equity.” The Data Equity Fellowship provides exactly that type of professional development experience as Fellowship teams comprised of at least one professional whose role centers on “data” and at least one professional whose role centers on “equity” come together over the course of 12 months to:

  • Learn about “data equity” – not to be confused with “using data to support equity initiatives,” which is a closely related but different concept (also covered in the Data Equity Fellowship).
  • Evaluate data to identify the area of focus for a data-informed project to improve equitable outcomes that is well-aligned with their institution’s unique mission and institutional goals.
  • Engage in a facilitated planning process using a data equity framework to plan the team project and rooted in evidence-based data equity principles.
  • Implement a team project, including planning to sustain and scale the impact, and report on the outcomes and lessons learned.

Data Equity Fellowship teams varied in size with the largest team size being 7 team members and an average team size of 3-4 members. The professional roles held by Data Equity Fellows at their institution were extremely diverse and included Assistant Provost, Associate Vice Chancellor, Chief Diversity Officer, Vice President, Executive Director, Dean, Business Intelligence Analyst, Research & Data Analyst, Accreditation Liaison, Program Manager, Research Associate, and Professor across areas like Institutional Research/Assessment/Effectiveness, Administration & Finance, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, Equity & Compliance, Curriculum Programs, Process Improvement, Student Engagement & Success, Academic Instruction, Analytics & Decision Support, Alaska Native Education & Outreach, Workforce Program Research & Development, HR & Strategic Engagement, Academic Affairs, and Student Affairs.

Data Equity Fellows engaged in Communities of Practice, which were self-selected, peer-led groups with a specialized focus based directly on the Fellows’ interests, including best practices for addressing equity gaps, collaborating with faculty to address equity gaps, collecting and using qualitative data, DEI in community and technical colleges, DEI in health professions-focused institutions, DEI in minority serving institutions, DEI in predominantly white institutions, disaggregating data, engaging in courageous conversations, and methodologies for identifying equity gaps. Communities of Practice came together on a monthly basis to share insights and resources, support, project ideas and feedback based on their common goals and interests. A key learning from the Communities of Practice was that everyone has expertise and insights that can benefit the whole community, regardless of job title or the number years of experience in a specific role because each person has an important perspective to share that can increase the field of possibilities for creativity and novel ideas for problem-solving in challenging areas.

The Fellowship projects centered on a wide variety of evidence-based and high impact areas like targeted initiatives that address equity gaps (identified using disaggregated institutional data); inclusion of equitable data in institutional mission, vision, and strategy; collaborative improvements to student advising to improve student retention and completion; initiatives developed in collaboration with faculty using data to identify and address equity gaps; and equity in employee recruitment and hiring, including data-informed policies, processes, and training. Based on their institution’s level of data maturity and culture of using data effectively to support equitable outcomes, some Fellowship teams focused on building institutional data capacity through initiatives centered on developing key institutional data systems and processes; providing or expanding appropriate access to disaggregated data; and building institutional capacity for analysis of disaggregated data to identify areas of inequitable outcomes.

The Data Equity Fellows also ventured into the metaverse in the last months of the Fellowship! Taking advantage of the Fellowship’s virtual structure, Fellowship teams presented their data equity projects in the metaverse, which almost none of the Fellows had previously experienced. It was exciting to explore a new online environment and everyone quickly learned how to move through the space, chat, and connect via livestream video with each other and the Fellowship teams hosting virtual “poster sessions.”

You may have seen colleagues sharing their (well-earned) badges and/or certificates from the Data Equity Fellowship- as graduates of the 2022/23 Data Equity Fellowship, the Fellows have joined the largest data equity community for postsecondary professionals – the Data Equity Fellowship Alumni Network – where they have the opportunity to continue sharing knowledge, ideas and insights, questions and feedback, events, career growth and transitions, professional opportunities, resources, success stories, support, and maintain long-term connections while making a positive impact for students.

The 2023/24 cohort of the Data Equity Fellowship is being offered in partnership with SACSCOC, UNCF, and Growing Inland Achievement. For more information, please visit the Data Equity Fellowship page or contact the Data Equity Fellowship Director, Dr. Jess Stahl (Vice President, Data Science & Analytics).


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