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Stanford launches digital pathways effort to enhance opportunity, diversity in higher ed

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A new university office joins with the National Education Equity Lab to deliver Stanford courses to underserved students nationwide

By Jonathan Rabinovitz

STANFORD, CA, Oct. 25, 2021--Stanford University announced a new effort to marshal the University’s technological capabilities and teaching and learning expertise to reach students who have been historically underserved by higher education. A newly formed office, Stanford Digital Education, is teaming up with the National Education Equity Lab, a nonprofit organization that works to bridge the gap between high school and college.

In its initial pilot with the Ed Equity Lab, Stanford Digital Education has enrolled more than 220 students nationwide in a credit-bearing introductory course, Computer Science 105, for the fall quarter. The students come from 15 Title 1 high schools (where at least 40 percent of the students are from low-income households). Other Stanford courses are expected to be offered through the Lab’s network of Title 1 high schools later in the academic year.

Map of Stanford CS105 and Ed Equity Lab Course Offerings

“This pilot course is part of an effort by Stanford to expand the University’s social impact at the local, national and global levels, and we are thrilled to partner with the Ed Equity Lab,” said Provost Persis Drell. “Through this new office, we seek to strengthen Stanford’s capacity to innovate in extending educational opportunities to those who have not had access to them before.”

Established by Provost Drell, Stanford Digital Education aims to spur innovation in Stanford’s online and hybrid education strategies. Its mission is to support and amplify digital education initiatives across Stanford’s schools and offices, helping to incubate new ideas and projects while providing a framework to facilitate collaboration internally and externally, as the work with the Ed Equity Lab demonstrates.

Founded in 2019, the National Education Equity Lab is designing, testing, and implementing new scalable strategies to help universities play a more active role in developing and identifying the next generation of scholars and leaders. Stanford is among the nation’s leading universities that are working with the nonprofit to provide online college credit-bearing courses in teacher-led high school classrooms in 32 states at no cost to students.

Leslie Cornfeld, Ed Equity Lab’s chief executive officer, said: “Our work is rooted in the fact that talent is evenly distributed, opportunity is not. By connecting our college partners with our nation’s historically underserved high schools, we aim to change that, at scale. Stanford’s effort shows what it looks like for a university to play a leadership role in broadening educational opportunity.”

This effort to prepare and encourage students from underrepresented backgrounds aims to address a disparity in college pathways: Research shows that the majority of high-achieving high school students from low-income families do not apply to, let alone attend, the selective colleges where they would have opportunities to flourish.

The computer science course, led by Stanford Computer Science Lecturer Patrick Young, is believed to be the first time in Stanford’s 136-year history that the university has offered a dual enrollment course with transferable college credit in collaboration with high schools nationwide, from Brooklyn to Oahu.

Young and members of Stanford Digital Education and the Ed Equity Lab set up the course keeping in mind that many of the students may have little background in the subject. “The goal is college-level rigor with support designed to meet the needs of high school students,” Young said.

student in waipahu looking at screen for CS105

Justin Eugene Natividad learns to code in Stanford’s introductory computer science college course being offered at Waipahu High School, near Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu. Photo for Stanford University by Brient Hutchinson.

Like previous courses offered by Ed Equity Lab, the Stanford computer science classes take place while students are at their schools as part of their daily schedules. It departs from other Ed Equity Lab courses, though, in key respects. Stanford alumni and students serve as section leaders and advisors. Teachers from the high schools, who are in the classrooms to facilitate and help with each lesson, are provided with professional development and support from Stanford’s Transforming Learning Accelerator.

“Our vision is to contribute to a more just, equitable and accessible system of education by uniting Stanford’s human and technological capabilities in new combinations,” said Matthew Rascoff, the newly appointed Stanford Vice Provost for Digital Education, who is leading the effort. “Together we can build a powerful escalator for socioeconomic mobility.” He was previously a special advisor to Provost Drell.

Rascoff, who earlier in his career was associate vice provost for digital education and innovation at Duke University, where he established the Duke Learning Innovation team, and founding vice president for technology-based learning and innovation for the University of North Carolina system, said more courses, including introductory writing and Structured Liberal Education, will be offered this academic year through the Ed Equity Lab’s network.

Last month, at a virtual convocation for the students and teachers celebrating the start of Computer Science 105, Provost Drell made a special appearance and emphasized how Stanford shares the Ed Equity Lab’s vision of leveling the playing field for high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds. Providing college-level courses at no cost to students could help to bring new students to Stanford and to other great schools, she said.

This pilot project marks the beginning of a broader effort at Stanford to widen access to higher education through digital teaching and learning strategies. “Like the Ed Equity Lab, we believe that human potential is evenly distributed, opportunity is not,” she noted afterwards. “Stanford is committed to changing that.”

students in Waipahu, HI codes in CS105 throwing shaka

Amir Zur [on screen], a Stanford junior majoring in Computer Science and Linguistics, is a section leader in Stanford’s introductory computer science course being offered at Waipahu High School near Honolulu. The students (from left to right) are Justin Eugene Natividad (Senior), Mary Loise Calamayan (Senior), Anna Monica Sakura Paguirigan (Senior), Hazel Grace Paguirigan (Sophomore) and Cheydon Agos (Sophomore). Photo for Stanford University by Brient Hutchinson.