Measuring progress toward racial equity in public higher education

A new set of aspirational universal targets will help move public higher education in Massachusetts toward its goal of racial equity over the next decade. Here’s how the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE)'s Office of Research and Planning developed the targets.

Adopted by the Board of Higher Education (BHE) in June 2023, targets for six indicators of student success add benchmarking and accountability measures to its Strategic Plan for Racial Equity. The ultimate vision of the Strategic Plan is “a system of student-ready, race-conscious public colleges and universities that are equitable and racially just, embrace the critical assets of Students of Color, and prepare Students of Color for success.” The plan details the path forward for achieving this vision by 2033 through targeted strategies and priorities, with the metrics and targets providing the means to measure progress and hold decision-makers accountable for achieving the vision. 
These steps outline the process used for setting the targets and the next steps for advancing the plan.

1. Establish baseline data on six metrics

Using data for the most current cohorts available, and then disaggregating by race and ethnicity, DHE established baseline numbers on six metrics which indicate students’ early momentum and long-term outcomes. Where applicable, numbers were calculated for community colleges, state universities, University of Massachusetts campuses, and system-wide across all Massachusetts institutions of public higher education.
Table shows aggregated baseline numbers for six metrics in the Strategic Plan for Racial Equity: On-Time Credit Accumulation, Timely Completion of Gateway Courses, Persistence, Transfer Rates, Completion After Transfer, and Overall Degree/Certificate Completion.
Series of graphs show little progress on upper limit of 10-year projections on metrics if changes are not made.

2. Apply forecasting models with status quo

Drawing on at least 10 years of historical data, DHE ran forecasting models to project where the metrics would be in 2033 if no changes were made to current policies and programs. With the exception of On-Time Credit Accumulation, even the upper limits of the projections showed little expected improvement in these metrics.

3. Set goals using Targeted Universalism

Using the projections, the upper limits and margins of error of those projections, and research on the interdependency of the metrics, DHE proposed targets for the institutional segments — community colleges, state universities, UMass campuses, and system-wide — of each metric. Applying Targeted Universalism, DHE set the same aspirational targets for all students and will measure progress toward these targets for all racial and ethnic subgroups.

What is Targeted Universalism?

An idea introduced by professor john a. powell at the University of California at Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, Targeted Universalism establishes universal goals for the general population and achieves those goals with targeted strategies based on the needs of different groups. 

Cover of a Primer on Targeted Universalism Policy & Practice by john a. powell  et al.
DHE’s proposed targets:
  • Illustrate that disparate efforts are needed to equitably support different groups of students
  • Help organize efforts and resource allocation to address structural barriers and improve outcomes
Though some targets may not seem as ambitious, the overarching goal is that all groups of students will meet or exceed the targets for each metric by 2033. The most ambitious target is for on-time credit accumulation — the percentage of students who complete their target number of credits in their first year. This metric has historically proven to be a key predictor of long-term student success and has been on an upward trend in recent years.
Use the dashboard below to compare the distance from baseline numbers to the universal targets for each student subgroup.
The targets were developed in collaboration with representatives from every public higher education institution and were reviewed by the college and university presidents prior to BHE approval. Setting ambitious targets makes it clear that higher performance and the elimination of racial equity gaps are essential outcomes of the Department’s Strategic Plan for Racial Equity.

4. Next steps

Target-setting for three additional metrics — enrollment, sense of belonging, and social and economic mobility — is currently underway in collaboration with the DHE’s strategic plan working groups and planned for adoption in Fall 2024. During the coming year, DHE's Performance Measurement Reporting System (PMRS) will also be updated to incorporate the Strategic Plan for Racial Equity’s metrics and targets.