Students are hit with a hidden curriculum when they enter college. It’s a system of unwritten rules and unspoken expectations that only the “privileged privileged” are familiar with. First-generation and/or disadvantaged students are overlooked yet still expected to understand how the system works and how to work the system. This leaves us with an equity problem that higher education institutions are working to address but struggling to solve.
How Students Are Affected
Students are hindered by conventions and jargon established long ago. Professors and faculty who are immersed in the university system (and have been for years) assume students know what office hours are or what a registrar is. In reality, these and other terms can be vague, confusing, or misleading. Higher education institutions seem to operate using a foreign language.
Students are also hindered when universities essentially shut down over holiday breaks or weekends. Professors and faculty leave, dining halls close, work-study or other campus-related jobs are put on pause, tutoring centers close, etc. The university structure and schedule doesn’t benefit every student as it should. It leaves out students who stay on campus and creates extra, unnecessary housing, food, and financial burdens. Where’s the equity in that?
The Root of the Equity Problem
University structures and systems are inherently inequitable. Students who don’t know the jargon, don’t feel comfortable approaching faculty, or don’t know where to find help on campus are set up to struggle from the start. The traditional structures and systems have been designed for the continuing-generation student who can call their parents when they need help navigating college. But for everyone else, it’s not that easy. To move toward greater equity, schools will need to work from the inside out to reconstruct existing structures before adding on new programs and initiatives. Schools will have to contend with processes, systems, and rules that have been in place for years and be willing to leave them in the past to tackle the root of the equity problem.
“Sometimes the very policies that colleges implement hurt all lower-income students, the privileged poor, and the doubly disadvantaged alike.”
—Anthony Jack, Harvard Professor and Former First-generation Student
How This Transfers into the Workplace
The challenges disadvantaged and first-generation students face don’t end at the university level. A student’s experience in higher education dictates graduation, future opportunities, and career paths. College is meant to help prepare students for the future, but recommendation letters, internships, and networking opportunities are harder for disadvantaged students to come by.
“We wonder why we can hire diverse applicants but we can’t seem to promote them. Recommendation letters in college are dependent upon relationships with faculty just as promotions at work are dependent upon superiors. It’s not just what you know and who you know, but also who knows you and how well they do.”
Not every student has someone they can go to for advice about careers, internships, or interviewing. Some don’t have any connections to people in their field of interest, and they aren’t sure how to find them. All of this puts them at even more of a disadvantage compared to some of their peers who have “insider” access. A lack of equity at the university level leads to a lack of equity into the workplace and beyond.
What Can We Do About It?
How can we cut through the bureaucratic, siloed, and inefficient processes and move toward greater equity in higher education? We’ve seen that merely providing access to education isn’t enough. We must equip and support students by democratizing access to student services and resources. Democratization means making something accessible to everyone. It relates to the idea of making support equally accessible to every student so that no group or individual is inadvertently hindered by a university’s long-standing silos and structures that historically benefit only a select group of students. The way to provide students with true democratized access to resources and services is by giving them real-time access to real people when they need it most. That’s where equity starts.
To learn more about democratizing access to get to the root of inequity, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.