AGENDA / Sessions


Opening Plenary

Welcomes from Gov. Mike Parson and Commissioner Zora Mulligan

Welcomes from Gov. Mike Parson and Commissioner Zora Mulligan


Opening Keynote

Equity and Finance: You Can’t Have One Without the Other

Budgets are value statements and how states fund higher education sends a signal about what they value. A more equitable educational system, therefore, requires a finance system that prioritizes student-centered equity. This session will explore national trends in higher education finance and the role they play in advancing, or hindering, equitable access and success. Principles for evaluating state finance will be elevated and examples of specific state efforts to fund for student equity will be explored.

Presented by Martha Snyder


Breakout Sessions

Alleviating Administrative Burdens for Low-Income Students: ACT Exam Acess and Postsecondary Education Engagement

An extensive literature documents the effects of “low-touch” interventions which seek to remove barriers to higher educational access. We examine the introduction and withdrawal of one such intervention to reduce the administrative burdens characteristic of postsecondary entrance exams. From 2015 to 2017, Missouri availed the ACT postsecondary entrance exam free of charge to high school juniors statewide during the course of the normal school day. Previously, low-income students were able to pursue fee waivers to complete the exam free of charge on Saturdays. We leverage variation in the adoption of similar school-district-specific policies both prior to and following the period of the statewide policy to estimate the effects of the program on test-taking, FAFSA completion, and two- and four-year postsecondary enrollment, with an emphasis on effects experienced by low-income students.

Over the pre-policy, policy, and post-policy time periods, we observe significant changes both to test-taking activity and to average district test scores. In preliminary analyses, we find that among its high school graduates, ACT test-taking increased by nearly 50% over the course of the funding policy. Upon the withdrawal of state funding, conversely, participation rates declined sharply, though not to pre-policy levels. These differences were most pronounced among districts serving the largest shares of low-income students. While the funding policy was in place, district average ACT scores declined over 8% and then, similar to participation rates, increased after the expiration of statewide funding.

Amid an increasingly fluid policy landscape debating the future of higher education entrance exams, we believe the findings of this study entail direct policy relevance for states like Missouri seeking to expand higher education access, particularly among low-income and racial minority student populations.

Presented by Dr. Evan Rhinesmith, Dr. J. Cameron Anglum, and Emily Cupito

Shaping a Culture of Access, Persistence & Completion for Males of Color

With the increasing number of males of color demographic, the impact to higher education will be palpable. Postsecondary institutions of higher learning have an obligation to partner with key community stakeholders to create initiatives that foster a seamless educational transition into and during college. The dominant narrative about males of color (with emphasis on African American and Latino males) is consumed with messages of failure, challenges and negativity. This population continues to struggle to keep pace with their female and other male peers on key educational outcomes. However, there are a plethora of successful educational pathways and effective promising practices available to shift the narrative and increase the human capital potential of this growing population coupled with enhancing their educational success.

Founded in 1990 on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University, the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB/B2B) is a national leader in providing systems to support young men of color complete post-secondary education. Utilizing a peer cohort culturally sensitive and contemporary programming model, SAAB/B2B builds the aspirations of Black and Brown men via peer mentoring and role modeling. The presenter accompanied by 2 SAAB students and one SAAB staff member will share the history, and guiding principles of the program, and its impact on young men of color over the past 30 years.

Presented by Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe and Allen Taylor

Developing a Transition to College Program for Rural Students

Rural students attend college at rates far lower than their non-rural peers. Myriad factors influence rural students’ decisions whether and where to attend college, but many are often deterred due to inadequate support, resources, and guidance during the summer before college. This critical time in the college journey of a rural student must be a priority for both high schools and higher education institutions, but few are aware of the unique challenges rural students face. 

 This presentation will draw on research and real-world examples of building transition to college programs specifically designed for rural students. Utilizing practical experiences and lessons learned from establishing programs in Missouri, Washington, and Idaho, the presenter will provide attendees useful tools and resources to begin building a summer transition program for the rural students they serve. Attendees will engage in self-reflection exercises to assess their current institutional or organizational practices for preparing rural students for college. Attendees will also learn about the most consequential challenges rural students encounter on their path to college.

Presented by Matt Newlin


Breakout Sessions

It’s All About Affordability: Lessons Learned from the Degrees Less Debt Research

Strategies to make college more affordable are the most impactful retention tool institutions have for supporting low-income students and Black students. This session will highlight how institutions can increase student retention and degree completion through affordability strategies identified in the St. Louis Graduates’ Degrees with Less Debt research: need-based financial aid; a multifaceted approach to student debt reduction; transparency and streamlining in the application process; and a high-touch approach to financial aid planning and financial literacy. Panelists will share how partners in the Postsecondary Equity Network are advancing these strategies to support students.

Presented by Trent Ball, Melissa Findley, and Laura Winter

Advancing the Equity Agenda

Recently, a representative team of faculty, staff, and administrators at  Metropolitan Community College (MCC) participated in The Gardner Institute’s – Equity in Retention Academy (EIRA). Currently referred as the  Metropolitan Community College – EIRA Team, we were led through a self-study process to identify and change systems & policies with a focus on anti-racist and anti-poverty student success outcomes. Concurrently, MCC was awarded an Institutional Racial Equity Initiative Grant from the Missouri Scholarship and Loan Foundation (MSLF) to support the development and implementation of a Faculty Equity Academy. This intensive professional development was focused on equity and inclusion in the classroom.

 Metropolitan Community College is undergoing a period of reinvigoration and renewal surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. W ith leadership transition in the Office of Institutional Equity and Inclusion, MCC is taking a next step at evolving the role of the department and have begun to split the civil rights compliance component from the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work, having learned that the necessary time and effort needed for compliance has overshadowed the opportunities for making progress with DEI efforts.

Utilizing Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change along with the incorporation of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC’s) Leadership Competencies, this presentation will take you on a journey as we transform Metropolitan Community College into an equity-centered institution. 

As we prioritize our students and their success with an intentional commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. MCC is truly committed to our students and recognize that inequities exist and that we must actively address them in our DEI work.

Presented by Dr. Warren Haynes, Cynthia Heddlesten, Melissa Giese, Antwan Daniels, and Dr. Kimberly Beatty

Transparent Equity Goals to Drive Change

Western Governors University has set bold goals to address the opportunity education can provide to advance equity across the nation and they are publicly sharing the data. In this interactive session, you will learn about how WGU is publicly sharing its goals around access and persistence and the ROI for graduates as well as strategies that are being employed to achieve them. Engage in a discussion about the impact of becoming transparent with our data around equity.

Presented by Dr. Angie Besendorfer, Dr. Kurt Gunnell, and Jessica Denham


Panel Discussion

A Discussion with Legislators: Affordability and Equity in Missouri Higher Education

During this bipartisan and bicameral panel discussion, Missouri legislators will highlight their priorities and visions on making postsecondary opportunities more equitable and affordable for Missouri’s students.

Panelists Include: Sen. Brian Williams, Rep. Kevin Windham, Rep. Brenda Shields, Sen. Greg Razer, and Rep. Rusty Black

Moderator: Gerren McHam


Opening Plenary

Welcomes and Presentation of Missouri Affordability Research

This plenary presentation will detail the key findings from the Department’s survey on affordability, and highlight the student voices that participated in the Department’s focus group sessions. These experiences that were so generously shared with the Department are critical to the foundation of the upcoming series of reports.

Presented by Erik Anderson and Sam Bezjak



Financial Aid Programs: State Trends and Steps Toward Equity

In this session, Education Commission of the States Principal Sarah Pingel will cover trends in state financial aid policymaking and strategies states are pursuing to advance equity.

Presented by Dr. Sarah Pingel


Breakout Sessions

From Handshake to Handshake: Including Non-Traditional African American Students in Higher Education Success

This interactive presentation will focusing on a strong commitment to the wrap around support services and academic support services for all phases of the non-traditional students’ academic journey. Our presentation will speak to the benefits various strategies such as the intrusive advising model and equity-minded pedagogy. Our experience shows a holistic approach to build rapport, support retention, and increase graduation is the primary strategy which guides academic success for non-traditional students. The presentation will model the andragogic approach to education and learning allowing the session participants to discuss their current challenges and opportunities for serving this populations of awesome learners.

Presented by Dr. Saint Rice and LaVada Rice

The Stephens College Offices of Equity and Compliance: A Journey Toward a Just, Equitable and Inclusive Campus

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Stephens College Inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), Shaashawn Dial; Title IX Coordinator, Shannon Walls; and ADA/Section 504 Coordinator, Sady Mayer Strand began meeting weekly via Zoom for connection and collaboration. Out of these meetings, came a vision for a triad: the three offices acting as one Equity Offices entity to support each other’s offices and initiatives. Our vision was to increase visibility of the three offices as well as create policies, protocols, and procedures for DEI that compliment and connect to the regulations of Title IX and ADA—and promote education and awareness regarding diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion.We rebranded ourselves as the Equity Offices, created easily accessible individual and joint websites, reworked old equity policies and reinstated new ones, and doubled down on our efforts to serve residential, online, and continuing education students as well as faculty, staff, and alumnae. Initially, we jointly authored seven newsletters and created facilitation for the three R’s of equity: rights, responsibilities, and reporting; presenting regularly to faculty, staff, and students. In an effort toward equity excellence, Shannon Walls used her Title IX knowledge as well as guidelines from ATIXA (Association of Title IX Administrators) to develop a thoughtful and thorough process for investigating reports of ADA, Title IX, and/or DEI discrimination against students, employees, vendors, and visitors.

To educate and encourage DEI change, Shaashawn Dial created an engaging, informative, and thought-provoking Summer 2020 THINK.SPEAK.DO presentation series. Later during the 2020-2021 academic year, she invited key facilitators to offer campus presentations—which she moderated—on disability rights, gender equity, the multigenerational workforce, and self-growth.

Presented by Saashawn Dial and Sady Mayer Strand

Connecting Audiences with Education, Apprenticeships, & Careers

We are living in one of our nation’s most unique and transformational periods. It is a time when Connecting with Audiences with Education, Apprenticeship & Career opportunities has never been more important.

The March 2021 NSCRS High School Benchmarks report covering approximately 860,000 graduates from nearly 3,500 high schools indicates that immediate fall enrolment rates DROPPED 4.5X the pre-pandemic rate of decline (-6.8% vs. -1.5%). Even more concerning was the disparity between students of high poverty/low-Income schools. Immediate enrolment for Students in High Poverty Schools DROPPED over 6X that of pre-pandemic declines (-11.4% vs -1.6%) while DROPPING 13.3X pre-pandemic declines (10.7% vs -0.8%).

To help our partners address these dramatic declines and disparities, MOCAN ( partnered with WHYSDOM (, a need-based behavior and data science company with a comprehensive history in outreach marketing for organizations ranging from Fortune 500 brands to non-profits to local and state communities. Their tools and technologies help identify, locate, and connect with audiences and understand the “whys” of audience behavior in real-time.

Together, MOCAN & WHYSDOM developed a detailed Focused Intelligence resource specifically for MOCAN’s Education and Career professionals. This unique resource is designed to drive highly engaging and relevant communication and activation strategies for Behavior-Based Outreach campaigns and programs. This research’s areas of emphasis include urban and rural audiences of low income, high poverty, and low educational attainment levels.

Presented by Francine Pratt and Tim Dobyns


Breakout Sessions

Degrees When Due: Equitable Strategies for Stopped-Out Student Reengagement and Completion

There are more than 36 million Americans 25 years and older who have earned some college credit, but no degree – “some college, no degree”. Ten percent, or 3.6 million, of this population are “potential completers” who completed at least two years’ worth of academic progress before stopping out. In Missouri, over 75,000 adults have been identified as potential completers.

Research demonstrates that first-generation, low-income, part-time, adult students, and students of color have lower completion rates than their counterparts. Therefore, breaking down barriers to stopped-out student reengagement is not just a matter of completion, but a matter of equity.

Before students can successfully be brought back, college and universities must identify and address institutional barriers that caused them to stop-out in the first place. The Institute for Higher Education’s national completion and equity initiative, Degrees When Due (DWD), provides institutions with a framework to successfully reengage students, remove barriers to reenrollment and completion, and sustain their degree reclamation efforts. Effective strategies for adult student reengagement will be shared by Missouri DWD participating institutions East Central College and Lincoln University, including examples of identifying, locating, communicating with, and reenrolling students.

Participants will leave the session with effective strategies for implementing or enhancing student reengagement efforts, and an understanding of common barriers to reengagement, as well as potential solutions.

Presented by Leanne Davis, Jennifer Pocai, Dr. Robyn Walter, and Dr. Ayanna Shivers

Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in Missouri

An introduction to Inclusive Post Secondary Education and Comprehensive Transition Programs and an overview of the three current programs in the State of Missouri – UMSL Succeed Program, MSU Bear POWER, and UCM Thrive.

Presented by Jonathan Lidgus. Dr. April Regester, Michael Brunkhorst, Kim Roam, Magen Rooney-Kron and Lindsay Athamanah

But I Don’t Want to Talk About Financial Aid…

The two dreaded words: Financial Aid. In this presentation we will talk about the benefit of overcoming your fears to talk about financial aid and how much it will help your students. At Rockhurst University we have a unique model where we build in multiple touch points to go over cost, scholarships, and how to pay. This process is actually ran through admissions, not financial aid. The admissions staff apricate the relationship building it provides and how much it helps student access their education and see college as an affordable option. Attend to learn more about this model.

Presented by Micaela Lenhart


Panel Discussion

Financial Aid Panel

Panelists Include: Melissa Findley, Rob Moore, Becca Diskin, Matt Newlin, Kristin Copeland and Amber Mitchell

Moderators: Leroy Wade and Kelli Reed


Opening Plenary

Welcomes from Dr. Mara Woody and Dr. Paul Katnik. Building an Equitable Education Ecosystem in Missouri

Assistant Commissioners from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will showcase how the two departments are working together to foster a more equitable education ecosystem for Missouri’s students.

Presented by Dr. Mara Woody and Dr. Paul Katnik



Building a Campus Culture of Inclusion through Employee Engagement

Dream with me! We will go on an organizations journey for creating a meaningful work experience that has a focus on inclusion. The organizations setting is in a rural Missouri. Our time together will allow for us to explore organizational culture, engagement and inclusion. Prepare to awake with a deeper understanding of how an organizational culture can influence its inclusion efforts. Actions and examples will be shared to enhance all of our toolboxes. 

Presented by Dr. Clarence Green


Breakout Sessions

WGU Academy: Personalizing Onramps to Postsecondary Education with Proven Success for Underserved Students

Academic and psychological barriers too often keep prospective students, especially those from historically underserved populations, from being accepted—or even seeking admission—into the postsecondary programs that could change their lives. That’s why WGU Academy was created—to tackle the problem head-on. Academy is built to prepare students for college success.

The program aimed primarily towards adult learners with low academic preparation, focuses on building a strong foundation of social-emotional learning to prepare its students for academic and career success. As in some other college-readiness programs, Academy students earn college credits by completing online coursework in an asynchronous manner at a flexible pace.

In order to graduate from Academy, students must complete a seven-week intensive Program for Academic and Career Advancement (PACA), where they engage in facilitated synchronous Zoom sessions with a diverse cohort of peers. Within PACA, students are given extensive training on both the theory and the application of key constructs like emotional intelligence, self-efficacy, effort regulation, empathy, collaboration and teamwork, and goal-setting. Students are also provided additional support and structure through engagement in personalized individual coaching sessions.

Academy graduates have significantly higher odds of satisfying first-term collegiate academic progress requirements in their subsequent bachelor’s degree programs relative to students who never attended Academy. Critically, these findings hold true when focusing on particularly at-risk groups: students of color and first-generation students. In other words, Academy graduates of color and Academy first-generation graduates both achieved the minimum first-term academic progress requirements at significantly higher rates than their counterparts who did not attend Academy. These findings suggest that Academy’s approach – providing students the tools to increase their self-efficacy and improve their emotional intelligence through PACA and personalized coaching while helping them navigate the rigorous curriculum – appears to be conferring benefits to a diverse and inclusive student population.

Presented by Dr. Angie Besendorfer, Dr. Reshma Gouravajhala, and Dr. Omid Fotuhi

Embedding a Culture of Care through a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lens

Learn about the exiting changes the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) is implementing to embed a “Culture of Care” in all aspects of the campus that center around Student Success. As a part of this work, a university team was created in Fall 2020 called STAT (Student Success Action Team). The STAT Team’s primary mission is to improve the rates at which the university enrolls, retains, and graduates students of color.

As a part of these efforts, UMKC joined the Post-Secondary Equity Network through Saint Louis Graduates and recently received a Missouri Scholarship and Loan Foundation Equity Grant to jumpstart this important work with students, faculty and staff. As mentioned, the grant will provide support for Minority Male Initiatives, Equity Mindedness Workshops as well as Faculty Inclusive Curriculum Seminars. Additionally, the University created Roos Advocate for Community Change (RACC),   an effort to lead thoughtful action on campus and in our community to ensure lasting and comprehensive change toward equity and inclusion through deliberate engagement and partnerships with campus students, faculty and staff, alumni, trustees, volunteers and community advisory boards.

This presentation will focus on the work being done to strategically implement change across the campus community students where they are by leveraging technology and to provide the support needed to bolster student success. New initiatives that will be showcased during the presentation include faculty led innovative curricular changes, the opening of the financial wellness center, the hiring a basic needs coordinator and the implementation of a new centralized academic advising model.

Presented by Dr. Kristi Holsinger, Doug Swink, Dr. Makini King, Keichandra Dees-Burnett, and Todd Wells

Increasing Opportunity Throughout the Student Life Cycle

We must eliminate equity gaps in higher education to truly serve college students well. And when students thrive communities’ benefit. Webster University is committed to closing the equity gap and investing in the future of our students, especially in our region.

We believe a diversified community leads to an increase in creativity, decision‐making, and an appreciation of different perspectives. Through all our work Webster University shows its commitment consistently to DEI and prioritizes collaborative initiatives. It takes an entire team and we show our commitment from before our students enroll, all the way through to graduation and beyond.

This year we named an Associate Director of Diversity Recruitment to provide staff dedicated to increasing the diversity of our on‐campus student population. He will ensure that early in the recruitment cycle Webster University will be onsite throughout the St. Louis North County and St. Louis City school districts by hosting office hours in each of the schools that are looking for increased assistance in the areas of financial aid, finding the right fit, and helping parents navigate the collegiate waters.

Once enrolled and on campus our entire faculty and staff are here to provide many support services to our students. Some notable items we will discuss:

  • a designated house of diversity for students
  • increasing our resources in an academic and social support program called RISE (Resilience Inspires Student Excellence).
  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Conference
  • Webster Speaks our bi‐weekly online virtual speaker series
  • Alumni Mentorship Program

The work of diversity must be intentional and that is exactly what Webster University is all about, making the work in this area first and foremost in the minds of our staff, faculty, and students. It takes everyone!

Presented by Elemuelle Harris, Vincent Flewellen, and Joanna Finch


Breakout Sessions

Evaluation of Project Lead the Way (PLTW): the Rollout and Postsecondary Attendance Patterns Among Program Participants

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a STEM career technical education program offered across the nation. Missouri first introduced PLTW in 2005, and the program has rapidly expanded over the last 15 years. PLTW is composed of three pathways of study – Biomedical Sciences, Engineering, and Computer Science – and the goal is to equip students with skills for college and careers in STEM by engaging students in hands-on learning.  To understand the implementation and students’ outcomes associated with PLTW, a team of researchers at UM-Kansas City, UM-Columbia, and Saint Louis University has conducted an initial evaluation. The presentation consists of three parts: Part 1 discusses how PLTW expanded across Missouri from 2005 to 2020, what school characteristics are associated with whether schools have adopted PLTW, and what student characteristics are associated with whether students enroll in PLTW courses. We show that PLTW participating schools are more racially diverse, larger in size, and serve fewer students on Free/Reduced Lunch (FRL) than non-participating schools, but they are similar in students’ average 8th-grade MAP scores. Students who took PLTW courses have higher MAP scores than non-participants and are less likely to be minority students or receive FRL. Also, female students tend to choose Biomedical Sciences, while Engineering is more popular for males. Part 2 discusses high school graduation and initial post-secondary outcomes (college enrollment and STEM major) of PLTW participants as compared to the outcomes non-PLTW participants. We find that PLTW participants have higher rate of high school graduation, college enrollment, and STEM majors than non-participants who are similar in MAP scores and other student characteristics (FRL, gender, race/ethnicity) as well as school characteristics. Importantly, minority students benefited more from PLTW. Part 3 discusses implications for Career and Technical Education policy, plans future research, and the value-of longitudinal K-12 to workforce data.

Presented by Eric Camburn, Takako Nomi, and Michael Podgursky

Enhancing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Graduate School through the McNair Scholars Program

The McNair Scholars Program is a TRIO program that prepares high-achieving first-generation, low-socioeconomic and underrepresented undergraduate students for the rigor of doctoral studies. Unlike most McNair Programs, the McNair Scholars Program at Saint Louis University also serves students that attend other institutions throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan region including Harris Stowe State University, Washington University in St. Louis, Webster University, Fontbonne University and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Over the past four program years the McNair Scholars Program has successfully matriculated a plethora of first-generation, low-socioeconomic and underrepresented students into graduate programs in Missouri and across the country. Furthermore, since 2019 McNair scholars have earned over 2.2 million dollars in graduate school funding. During this presentation participants, will learn how the McNair Scholars Program built a successful pipeline to graduate school for first-generation, low-socioeconomic and underrepresented students. Moreover, participants will learn how the McNair Scholars Program built successful partnerships with institutions throughout the St. Louis region in efforts to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in graduate education.

Presented by Dr. Anthony Parker-Gills

Using Virtual Internships to Expand Access to Opportunity

As the pandemic spread across the country, U.S. internship openings were 49 percent lower than the year prior. This decrease represents a much higher decline than what was seen for U.S. job openings, which fell by 27 percent, according to the career site Glassdoor. The DeBruce Foundation recognized these reductions created a new barrier to expanding career pathways because internships, apprenticeships, and fellowships play a crucial role in connecting talent with opportunities. As a response, the Foundation created the vShips Initiative in order to achieve the following goals:

  • Equip and empower employers to pivot to virtual internships rather than cut crucial talent-developing opportunities
  • Increase access to internships for underrepresented groups
  • Foster a diverse talent pipeline and a sustainable workforce

The Foundation convened virtual conversations with vShips employers and interns across the nation to share information on best practices, lessons learned, and to exchange valuable insights.

 This panel presentation, led by The DeBruce Foundation, will highlight how virtual internships serve to increase equitable access to internships, connect innovative employers to opportunity-seeking interns, and provide insight on establishing meaningful employer – employee relationships in a virtual work environment. While vShips was initially a response to the circumstances created by the pandemic, internships going forward will include in-person, virtual, AND hybrid experiences. The panel will also discuss how the lessons from the past year can be applied in various ways to advance equitable opportunity in the future of work. At least one vShips intern will be included in the panel along with a vShips employer.

Presented by Dr. Leigh Anne Taylor Knight, Alex Oleson, and Mindy Mazur


Keynote Address

Access, Affordability and the Invisible Knapsack

Presented by Dr. Rolundus Rice with moderator Jaron Vail