Equity Probing Guide


This Equity Probing Guide is a companion for ASA Research’s Strategic Data Use workshops. The workshop content provides discussion regarding the importance of conducting an equity inquiry to identify where gaps might occur in student outcomes. This guide provides a framework to conduct an equity inquiry, along with example questions to start conversations on your campus.

During an equity inquiry, be open and ready to roll up your sleeves and dig in to learn from your data. A strong equity inquiry will provide evidence as to what is occurring and will help to eliminate bias – including implicit or unconscious bias. As your campus team works through an equity conversation:

“…try to be aware and increase [your] capacity to question … assumptions, to recognize when … perspectives might be influencing … judgments and expectations of others, and to check … bias at the … door with the goal of aligning …stated core values with … actions.”

R. E. Haslam[1]

Please contact us if you would like assistance as you and your team embark on an equity inquiry – whether to facilitate the data inquiry and conversation, or to convene a workshop.

Ensuring Educational Equity is a Matter of Justice

Equity-mindedness[2] refers to the perspective or mode of thinking exhibited by practitioners who call attention to patterns of inequity in student outcomes. These practitioners are willing to take personal and institutional responsibility for the success of their students, and critically reassess their own practices. It also requires that practitioners are race-conscious and aware of the social and historical context of exclusionary practices in American Higher Education.”

USC Center for Urban Education[3]

Does your institution embody a definition of equity as related to student success, or have you set equity goals? Equity is often seen as a valued principle, but is not regularly assessed or measured, and “what gets measured, gets noticed”.[4] While we embrace and celebrate diversity on our campuses, diversity does not imply equity. As you work to identify where inequities occur, consider all student touchpoints including the institution’s environment, culture, and accessibility—beginning with the on-ramps to postsecondary education, academic progression–and outcomes such as credential completion or transfer, and post-enrollment employment.

Discussion Considerations

During discussions, think critically and intentionally. Examine your institution’s processes, policies and programs through the following lenses:[5]

  • Which student populations should be included in equity conversations? What types of data can be collected to better understand their experiences and outcomes?
  • Who most likely benefits from the policy or program? Is the program meant to serve all students equally?
  • How might a practice disadvantage some students, particularly Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income students?
  • What do we prioritize, reward, and normalize that might privilege students in certain groups?
  • How did those who designed the policy or program take equity into account? Was it considered?
  • Who might not meet eligibility requirements? Does this have uneven effects?
As you conduct your equity inquiry and review your data or metrics, consider…
• Where do equity gaps occur for your students? 
• How do the metrics operate together? For example, why would the credit accumulation and credit completion rates be lower for some students while retention is higher?
• Examine both the magnitude of a gap and the trend. Is the gap closing because outcomes for the comparison group are declining?
• Be sure to know your data! What are the definitions? Who is included in the data?
• What additional data is needed to help to better understand students’ experiences and outcomes? Consider the student voice and make use of student surveys and focus groups to gain insight into student behaviors and the reasons why they do or don’t do something.
• Be sure to examine outcomes across student populations and at the intersections of characteristics (e.g., Hispanic females).

Environment and Culture

  • How does the racial/ethnic diversity of your institution’s faculty and staff compare to that of your students? What is the composition of new hires? Research shows that outcomes and academic achievement are higher when students can identify with faculty and staff and look to them as role models.
  • Do faculty and staff participate in diversity training? Is it effective? What are the results?
  • Is diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training included in new student orientation?


  • Do all students have the same access to high-quality education and services?
  • How does the distribution of enrollments compare to that of the college’s service area, for example, by race/ethnicity and gender, and income?
  • Are underserved students enrolling in programs that provide high economic mobility, or those forecasted to be in high demand with good wages? (For example, Hispanic female students frequently enroll in programs in the lowest paying fields.[6])
  • What access do low-income students have to financial support? Are they getting what they need to remain in classes? Consider non-education financial resources, such as housing, childcare, and food security.
  • Do students from immigrant families have proper and accurate information about student aid? Some students may be afraid of completing the FAFSA due to perceived legal or immigration ramifications. Also, some do not understand what financial aid is, may think it only comes in the form of loans, and may be debt averse.
  • Do all students have access to and participate in academic and social programs such as internships, fellowships, or study abroad? Do all students receive the information they need about these programs?


  • Does it take some students longer than others to complete developmental education coursework?
  • Are all students attempting gateway math in the first term/first year? Gateway English? If no, why not?
  • Are some gateway or foundational courses more problematic for some student groups? If yes, what does this mean for curriculum? Faculty development? What about developmental education or co-requisites?

Academic Progression

  • Do certain courses, programs, services, or schedules result in uneven outcomes?
  • Are various student groups accumulating credits at similar rates? If not, where is the breakdown and why?
  • Are all students able to stay on their designated path, or are there patterns where certain students stumble?
  • Are all students taking productive courses and on-track for efficient completion, or does course-taking for some students deviate from the course map?


  • Do completion and transfer look similar across student populations?
  • Do graduation rates vary across student populations? If yes, why might this be?
  • Do students complete credentials in major fields of high demand and high mobility at similar rates?
  • What are the final GPAs for students across various student populations? Students with higher GPAs are better able to transfer to more selective programs and are selected by recruiters for interviews at higher rates than those with lower GPAs.
  • How do time to degree and the number of excess credits compare across various student populations? Do some students take longer to complete? Have more excess credits? If yes, why?
  • Do transfer rates for various students differ? Why?
  • What types of institutions and programs do students transfer to? (This question is also related to the Access section.)
  • Are the shares of credits that articulate across students similar? If not, what are the patterns?
  • Do students who transfer attain bachelor’s degrees at similar rates across various student populations?

Labor Force

  • Are students obtaining jobs in their fields at the same rates? If not, why is that?
  • How do wages within field compare across students? If they differ, why?
As you conduct your data inquiry, be sure to remember that the inquiry is intended help your institution understand what policies and practices are effective in supporting your students and where roadblocks may hinder their success. The goal is to capitalize on those momentum points and to break down the barriers. Don’t use the data punitively. Rather, use the data to inform, bust myths, eliminate bias, and make strategic decisions.

“… [We aren’t] apologizing if the numbers weren’t positive, but just being realistic, this is something that’s just going to help us grow and change and be better.”[7]

[1] Haslam, R. E., (2018). Checking our bias at the door: centering our core values in the classroom. Literacy Today, July/August 2018.

[2] Equity-mindedness is a concept developed by Estela Bensimon at the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California (USC). For further information, visit https://cue.usc.edu/equity/equity-mindedness/.

[3] Center for Urban Education. (N.D.) What is Equity-Mindedness? University of Southern California.  https://cue.usc.edu/equity/equity-mindedness/.

[4] Kenny, G. (2020). Put your metrics where your mouth is. Harvard Business Review, Oct. 2, 2020. https://hbr.org/2020/10/put-your-metrics-where-your-mouth-is

[5] Adapted from McNair, T. B., Bensimon, E. M., Malcolm-Piquex, L. (2020). From Equity Talk to Equity Walk. (1st ed.). Wiley.

[6] Douglas-Gabriel, D. (2015, September 16). “Racial disparities in college major selection exacerbate earnings gap.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/09/16/racial-disparities-in-college-major-selection-exacerbates-earnings-gap-3/.

[7] Ann Buchele. (n.d.) Changing the Data Culture: Linn-Benton Community College, Voices of Pathways film series.  https://vimeo.com/384542856.