CSUN works to close opportunity gap

drawing of people's shadows walking up stairs at Oviatt Library
illustration by Kiv Bui

The office of Student Success Innovations has embarked on a mission to close the opportunity gap between students from underserved communities and students from better served communities, by collaborating with facility, staff and students, to develop innovative strategies to increases student success rates.

The opportunity gap, also known as the achievement gap, is the gap in graduation rates and grade point averages among students from better-served communities, compared to students from underserved communities, due to the unfair distribution of opportunities.

Kristy Michaud, Director of the Office of Student Success Innovation, was quoted in a CSUN Today article saying “[The choice in language] makes it clear the gaps in outcomes are related to the differential opportunities students have had, often before they set foot on our campus, and are not due to deficits in students’ efforts.”

Students from underserved communities are students who identify as Latina/o, African American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaskan Native, while students from better-served communities are students identifying as Caucasian or Asian American, according an institutional research report done by Cal State University, Northridge

Today, more than 50% of CSUN’s student undergraduate population comes from underserved communities, according to the same report.

So how do we close the gap? While the answer to that is undoubtedly complex, CSUN is undertaking some strategies to close the opportunity gap.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) will fund a faculty training program called Inclusive Innovation Series that’s intended to raise awareness about the gaps and get faculty learning, talking and collaborating about how to close these gaps.

CSUN Connects is an initiative started by the Student Success Innovations office that connects faculty, staff and students through shared experiences they have in common. Faculty and staff were urged to share experiences they’ve had either through their emails signatures, Canvas page or through placards on their doors or desks. The idea was to create a campus wide conversation about shared experiences and come together around these shared experiences.

There have also been mentorship programs put into place that target students coming from underserved communities that help these students achieve success.

“I think higher education should be available to any student who wants it,” said Gabriyelle Danis who is the CSUN Mentorship Program Coordinator and student getting her Masters in Higher Education.

The issue of the opportunity gap is present across the Cal State University spectrum. A lot of pressure has been but on the state to increase the graduation rate among student from underserved communities because there is growing concern on how the opportunity gap could be a contributor to the workforce skills gap.