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Strategic Initiatives  |   Equity agenda

Project Updates

August 13, 2021: Update

Board to Hear Preliminary NUE Recommendations at the August 23 Special Board of Higher Education Meeting

With the Equity Agenda well underway, the Department of Higher Education continues to advance key projects in pursuit of achieving racial equity in public higher education. At the June Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Higher Education, Deputy Commissioner Patricia Marshall presented on the New Undergraduate Experience (NUE), an initiative aimed at developing a series of recommendations to reimagine our system of public higher education and our students’ undergraduate experience by recognizing their cultural wealth, transforming teaching and learning, and aligning system and institutional efforts to create student-ready colleges and universities.

The fundamental premise of the New Undergraduate Experience is that the mission of public higher education—as an engine of socio-economic mobility and critically engaged citizenship—must be realized through a commitment to advancing racial equity and justice. Central to the project of advancing racial equity is a relentless belief in the strengths, assets, and cultural wealth of all our students, as well as a recognition that our academic structures, policies, and practices have functioned as barriers to student success.

During the development of the final NUE report, several student focus groups were held which yielded several different themes and the recommendation to create a Student Bill of Rights. The themes from the student focus groups included the desire for additional support at important moments of transition, to see their identities reflected and valued in the curriculum and on campus, to be represented in student government and to have a voice in decisions that affect them, and for institutions to be transparent and accountable in implementing the Equity Agenda.

At the special Board of Higher Education (BHE) meeting on August 23, 2021, a key point of discussion will be a deeper dive of some of the preliminary NUE recommendations. The final report will be brought to the BHE in the fall, and the Student Bill of Rights will frame a series of cross-cutting equity recommendations, as well as recommendations in the various areas including Admissions & Transfer, the Curriculum, Faculty & Pedagogy, and the Co-Curriculum and Student Support. Ultimately, NUE’s recommendations focus on building the capacity of staff and faculty to recognize the assets our students bring with them and to facilitate their learning and success, and on redesigning our institutions, systems, and structures rather than remediating students.


May 14, 2021: Update

DHE Policy Audits Underway to Inform Anti-Racist Policy Redesign

At the beginning of Spring 2021 and in advancement of the Equity Agenda, Department of Higher Education (DHE) launched a three-year policy and program audit in which staff will recommend policy changes necessary to ensure racial equity across public postsecondary education in Massachusetts, and, more specifically, to better serve racially minoritized students attending institutions of public higher education in the Commonwealth. In describing this effort, Commissioner Carlos E. Santiago said “This audit is required that so we can thoroughly assess and examine all of our policies and initiatives, and rescind or modify those policies that create and exacerbate racial inequity, and to redesign our policy scheme to build a culturally sustainable public postsecondary system where students can thrive.”

“This audit is required that so we can thoroughly assess and examine all of our policies and initiatives, and rescind or modify those policies that create and exacerbate racial inequity, and to redesign our policy scheme to build a culturally sustainable public postsecondary system where students can thrive.”
- Commissioner Santiago

Over 20 Department staff are engaged in the Policy & Program Audit, which being co-led by Chief of Staff & Assistant Commissioner Elena Quiroz-Livanis and Assistant Commissioner Christine Williams. Policies and programs being audited this year include, but are not limited to, admissions, developmental education, dual enrollment and early college, financial aid, and the Performance Measuring Reporting System.

In support of the agency’s cultural transformation and in an effort to promote equity-minded policymaking, staff engaged in the Equity Agenda Policy and Program Audit are members of a Learning Community. The Learning Community is convened once every other month to share findings and work together to identify solutions. The standards used to inform the audit are derived from the Department’s racial equity principles.

The work of this policy and program audit will also serve to inform the broader generative work of the Department as well, allowing staff to experience a reorientation towards racial equity in concrete ways as related to the various aspects of the work of the agency. 

Fundamentally, given the stark racial disparities within public postsecondary education in Massachusetts, it is imperative that we ensure those policies within the purview of the Department that already exist and that will be developed and implemented are evaluated by the DHE to ensure they are anti-racist and grounded in racial equity.


December 17, 2020: Update

Collaboration to Reimagine the Undergraduate Experience Through a Racial Equity Lens Begins

screen capture of the first virtual convening in December

On December 9, 2020, more than fifty faculty, staff, students, and campus and community leaders from across the Commonwealth joined Commissioner Carlos E. Santiago, Deputy Commissioner of Academic Affairs & Student Success Patricia A. Marshall, and staff from the Department of Higher Education, for the virtual kick-off of The New Undergraduate Experience (NUE). Commissioner Santiago announced in his opening remarks that the New Undergraduate Experience initiative, a cornerstone of the Department of Higher Education’s Equity Action Plan, will advance racial equity by creating comprehensive recommendations to “reimagine the undergraduate experience by recognizing students’ cultural wealth, transforming teaching and learning, and aligning system and institutional efforts to create student-ready campuses.” 

“The present moment’s confluence of widening racial inequities in higher education along with a paradigm-shifting pandemic has made this project an urgent priority.”
- Dr. Patricia Marshall

As Dr. Marshall explained in her remarks, The New Undergraduate Experience is an updating and re-booting of The Undergraduate Experience (UE), a comprehensive report and set of 44 recommendations published by the Massachusetts Board of Regents in 1989. Focused on achieving “excellence” in public higher education, the recommendations of the UE charted the policies and practices of public institutions for more than a generation. From the moment she arrived at the Department of Higher Education and read the 1989 report, Dr. Marshall recollected, she conceived of an ambitious re-imagining of the document. “The present moment’s confluence of widening racial inequities in higher education along with a paradigm-shifting pandemic,” Dr. Marshall said, “has made this project an urgent priority.”

The NUE will examine all aspects of the undergraduate experience through a racial equity lens, from admissions practices, to co-curricular programming and student support, to faculty development, pedagogy and curriculum. Over the next six months, the NUE’s 57 committee members will meet as three working committees to draft the report and their recommendations, drawing from proven models across the country and best practices currently being implemented in many Massachusetts public colleges and universities. Like its predecessor, The New Undergraduate Experience promises to be a visionary, aspirational, and transformative document, now with equity and justice as its core principle and guide. 


November 22, 2020: Update

With Lumina Foundation Support, Racial Equity Agenda Advances at DHE, Campuses

Two months after the DHE announced Lumina Foundation’s $1.2 million investment in the Equity Agenda for Massachusetts public higher education, work has begun to transform programs, policies and practices to truly serve Black, Latinx, and other minoritized students in achieving their postsecondary goals.

DHE staff have completed an internal policy and program audit manual informed by the Department’s racial equity principles that will help guide the work to review all departmental policies and initiatives to ensure that they serve all students’ educational aspirations equitably and ensure that campuses are prepared to serve minoritized students.

At the same time, staff are also embarking on a project using a racial equity lens to update and reimagine the every aspect of the undergraduate experience, recognizing students’ cultural wealth, transforming teaching and learning, and aligning system and institutional efforts to create student-ready colleges and universities. 

“It's gratifying to see campuses and DHE staff prioritizing the Equity Agenda even as they grapple with the public health and economic consequences of the pandemic,” said Commissioner Santiago. “As I've said many times, COVID-19 has only highlighted the inequities in our system and among our student populations, and in my mind make this work to achieve equity and racial justice all the more urgent.”

The foundational work of the Equity Agenda is drawing national notice; in October, Elena Quiroz-Livanis, Assistant Commissioner for Academic Policy & Student Success and Chief of Staff and Christine Williams, Assistant Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs and Strategic Initiatives, were invited to speak at Complete College America’s “With Equity and Justice for All” virtual conference, sharing the origins and principles of Massachusetts’ equity work with colleagues from other states.


September 10, 2020: Press Release

Massachusetts Awarded $1.2 Million by Lumina Foundation to Pursue Equity, Racial Justice Goals for Public Higher Education System

Department of Higher Education, Six Campuses Share Grants and Set Goal to Change Programs and Policies, Improve Campus Experience and Outcomes for Black and Latinx Students

Boston, MA – September 10, 2020 – The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education has been awarded $1.2 million in grant funding by Lumina Foundation through its Talent, Innovation, Equity (TIE) initiative grant and its Equity Institution grant to dismantle systemic barriers to student success and degree attainment, particularly for Black and Latinx students. The Commonwealth is only the fifth state to receive Lumina’s Talent, Innovation, Equity (TIE) grant.

“It’s great to see the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education announce plans to take thoughtful steps toward developing and implementing policies to help eliminate racial disparities in our higher education systems.”
- Senator Elizabeth Warren

Lumina’s support through the $500,000 TIE grant and simultaneously awarded $700,000 in Equity Institution grants to six Massachusetts public community colleges and universities, as well as the Boston Foundation, will support the equity vision adopted by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) in December 2018. The Massachusetts Board became the first state higher education authority in the U.S. to make equity the top statewide policy and performance objective for a public system of higher education system. Last May, the Board endorsed a series of specific performance targets, including an overall college attainment goal of 70 percent for the state and a specific goal that 43 percent of African American and 32 percent of Latinx Massachusetts residents ages 25 to 64 will hold an associate degree or higher by 2024. 

“The Baker-Polito Administration is focused on enhancing economic and social mobility for all Massachusetts residents and – particularly those who have been historically underserved and underrepresented on college and university campuses,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “While Massachusetts leads the nation in quality education, inequities in access and opportunity in higher education exist for students of color, and our administration is committed to continued leadership in this space through ongoing investment in equity to ensure that students receive the same resources and support to facilitate success in the classroom and beyond.”

“It’s great to see the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education announce plans to take thoughtful steps toward developing and implementing policies to help eliminate racial disparities in our higher education system," said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who participated in today’s grant announcement via webinar. "By developing a statewide strategic plan focused on equity, Massachusetts will better serve students of color throughout all levels of education."

“Access to quality higher education can help set students up for a lifetime of success, but systemic inequities in our higher education system prevent far too many Black and brown students from achieving their full potential,” said Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who joined Senator Warren at today’s announcement. “It’s critical that our campuses reflect the diversity of our communities, and that our colleges and universities are equipped with the resources, data, and cultural competency to support students of every background. This funding will help Massachusetts identify and address racial inequities and barriers to access and completion across our higher education landscape. We can no longer treat a higher education as a privilege and must begin to treat it as the fundamental civil right that it is.”

“In Massachusetts, while more than 57 percent of adults hold an associate degree or higher, the gaps in educational achievement and attainment and their impact on economic opportunity for many residents remain,” said Education Secretary James Peyer. “These unjust inequities have only been exacerbated by the retreat into remote learning since March, and we are grateful for the support of the Lumina Foundation as we continue to seek to close these gaps.”

“COVID-19 has exposed inequities across our state, and it has been made clear that we in higher education must look in the mirror and be willing to change the way we do business,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education. “With Lumina’s support, the Department and the Commonwealth will be able to accelerate our work to ensure that students of color from underserved communities feel welcome on campus and have the resources they need to complete their degrees and enter the workforce in a timely fashion.”

"The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education is ‘all in’ to ensure that our Commonwealth, fairly considered the leading place in the world for excellence in higher education, also leads on ensuring equity of opportunity and success for all of our own students, especially those who have historically been underserved,” said Chris Gabrieli, Chair of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education.  “We must prioritize the changes needed to achieve that."

“Lumina Foundation is thrilled to support efforts to improve outcomes for Black, Hispanic and Native American learners in Massachusetts,” said Lumina Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Danette Howard, PhD. “We have been impressed and energized by the commitment to racial equity demonstrated at all levels of the Commonwealth. We believe the work ahead will catalyze structural improvements for equity within Massachusetts institutions, communities and throughout the state.”

Lumina Foundation funding will enable the Department of Higher Education to:

  • Complete a comprehensive audit to assess all policies and initiatives to identify and remove or redesign policies that exacerbate racial inequity,
  • Expand data dashboards to measure progress and include baseline projections and benchmarks of Massachusetts public higher education enrollment through 2030.
  • Reimagine the undergraduate experience in order to dismantle systemic barriers, recognize students' cultural wealth, and advance racial equity.
  • Create digital resources for campuses, which may include implementation toolkits and digital archives to allow sharing across campuses, and to support the growth of a community of practice among equity institutions and public campuses broadly
  • Develop a 10-year strategic plan focused on advancing racial equity and expanding data dashboards to measure progress and include baseline projections and benchmarks of Massachusetts public higher education enrollment through 2030.
  • Develop statewide professional development curriculum to support faculty work with students.

In addition to the TIE Partnership Grant, six college and university campuses, as well as The Boston Foundation, are recipients of Lumina’s Equity Institution grants:

Bridgewater State University will scale its data-informed educational equity efforts to address disparities experienced by students of color through: the BSU Summer Bears bridge program which supports the retention of incoming students with lower high school GPAs through curricular and co-curricular programming; a Student Navigator who will offer care coordination and support to students identified through predictive analytics as those who would benefit from wrap-around campus student success support. The grant will also support the work of the Leading for Change Racial Equity and Justice Institute, a consortium of 25 campuses in the region committed to data-informed educational equity work, which is convened and coordinated by Bridgewater State University. 

Bunker Hill Community College will build on the work of the Center for Equity and Cultural Wealth, applying its equity framework to redesign its curriculum and student academic experience in health care and STEM programs, part of an intentional strategy of culturally-responsive programming and equity minded practice.

Greenfield Community College will leverage its long-standing asset-based community development approach to diversity and inclusion as it launches a new Mountain Scholars Program, focused on recruiting students of color from regional high schools and GCC’s applicant pool. Each scholar will have a specialized advisor identified for strong cultural competency, and the program will be complemented with focused faculty professional development as well strengthened data utilization efforts.

Holyoke Community College will form and train an "equity team" of data-informed and equity-minded faculty and staff who will move the college forward in its longer-term goals and outcomes for learners of color, which are central to HCC's strategic plan. In addition, HCC will build on the success of its existing mentoring and alumni relations programs to build a mentoring network for alumni and students of color.

The Massachusetts College of Art and Design will institute a Rising Sophomore program to raise college completion rates of Black and Latinx students, arming them with software, technical skills, and other tools to give them a strong foundation in their major.

The University of Massachusetts at Boston will use Lumina support for a “RESPOND” peer coaching initiative to assist students disparately impacted by the pandemic and the shift to remote learning. A second project, Professional Apprenticeship and Career Education (PACE), will aim to reduce persistence, graduation, and career opportunity disparities through professional, on-campus paid apprenticeships, and will also include a focused equity analysis of on campus employment.

The Boston Foundation will participate in this work through Success Boston - Boston's citywide college completion initiative, which is also a Lumina Foundation Talent Hub. Success Boston has successfully implemented equity-based strategies for improving postsecondary success, including through its transition coaching work. Through this grant, Success Boston will share resources and lessons learned with grant partners, expanding beyond Metro Boston.