The University of Connecticut was recently selected by the National Education Equity Lab to join other institutions in offering university courses to underprivileged high school students at no cost and for credit.
This is a solid step towards democratizing access to higher education. The courses are taught by university faculty in asynchronous formats, which broadens the geographic reach of the program as well as allows students greater flexibility while engaging with course material. Teaching assistants provide live-time support to students, and high school teachers monitor student progress through regular meetings. The courses provide opportunities for students to experience the rigors of college-level academic work, as well as to realize their own capabilities for it.
The Ed Equity Lab provides UConn with a unique opportunity to leverage its position as a state university with the country’s oldest concurrent enrollment program, The Early College Experience, to be a leader in increasing accessibility to higher education. The ECE program allows UConn to build upon existing logistical infrastructure and community partnerships to offer opportunities for students to earn actual UConn credit for their work — unlike with institutions like Harvard and Cornell, that, although a part of the Ed Equity Lab, seem only willing to offer credit from their online extension schools.
However, it remains to be seen whether UConn will move beyond its current pilot stage of involvement towards a more focused and extensive commitment that addresses educational inequity with concurrent high school enrollment programs. Presently, the only course offered from UConn through the Ed Equity Lab is a course on happiness, taught by Yale professor Laurie Santos. Such humanities courses offer students the opportunity to improve their writing skills and engage in college-level discussions on topics they likely wouldn’t have classes on at their high schools. We hope that programs like the Ed Equity Lab and UConn also take steps to provide students with similar opportunities for enrichment in other areas of education, in addition to the humanities. For example, gaps in math skills play a critical role in college success — in both STEM fields, and other fields such as business and the social sciences that require quantitative reasoning skills — and there are significant gaps in math performance between students from low-income families and their peers. Math or statistics courses offered through programs like the Ed Equity Lab would, , similar to the happiness course, allow students to gain critical skills through non-traditional course pathways. This could also be a significant way to mitigate educational inequities. UConn already has numerous quantitative courses that don’t fit into traditional high-school math pathways, such as math modeling, problem solving, data analytics and applied math courses for business and economics.
As UConn pilots the program this semester, we hope that they are diligently planning to expand their involvement in the fall to include more humanities courses as well as STEM courses. With an established ECE program, an extensive course catalog and now the partnership with the Ed Equity Lab, UConn has an immense opportunity to be a leader in democratizing access to higher education — and should step up to the challenge.