What is equity in higher education: Stepping towards more inclusive learning

What does equity actually look like in higher education? We're breaking down its impact and the path to more inclusive teaching and learning practices.
Your asset will automatically download.
Didn’t get it?
Download Now

Even though the demographic landscape of schools across the nation has shifted, with underrepresented students making up nearly half of the student population, equitable access to higher education continues to remain a daunting barrier for many. 

Due to circumstances beyond their control, these students can find themselves in situations where they are unable to access the same resources, opportunities, and support systems as their peers. This lack of equitable access can lead to poorer outcomes and fewer opportunities for these students.

These equity gaps create a chasm, not just in educational attainment, but also in future opportunities. The problem lies not only in the unequal distribution of resources but also in the fundamental misunderstanding of what equity truly means within the academic sphere. 

This article aims to tackle this issue head-on, offering insights into the distinctions between equity and equality, showcasing inclusive teaching practices, and highlighting the transformative potential of future trends and technologies like Riipen.


What does equity mean in higher education?

Equity in higher education encompasses the commitment to ensuring access, opportunities, and fair treatment for all students, irrespective of their backgrounds or personal circumstances. 

This concept goes beyond the notion of equality and focuses on providing the necessary support to level the playing field, taking into account the unique challenges and barriers that different groups of students may face.

This concept is key to attracting a diverse student body and fostering an inclusive educational atmosphere. For example, by adopting equitable practices such as scholarship programs, mentorship opportunities, and supportive campus environments that cater to diverse student populations, institutions have the ability to directly impact student outcomes and success.

Colleges and universities that are known for their commitment to equity are more likely to attract a diverse student population and boost their student retention. Such institutions are also more appealing to socially conscious faculty, staff, and partners, including employers looking for work-based learning opportunities for students.

By ensuring that all students, regardless of their background, have the chance to acquire the knowledge and skills needed in the workforce, higher education institutions play a pivotal role in closing the equity gap in society at large.

The difference between equity and equality

In the context of higher education, it's essential to distinguish between two concepts that are often misunderstood: equity and equality.

Equality refers to treating everyone the same and providing all students with identical resources and opportunities.

Equity involves giving individuals what they need based on their unique starting points and circumstances.

On the surface, equality seems fair, as it does not outwardly favor one student over another. However, it overlooks the diverse challenges and barriers that students from underrepresented backgrounds face. That’s where equity comes into play.

Equity acknowledges that students come from varying circumstances and adjusts academic support and resources to level the playing field for every student, particularly those from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds. These tailor-made solutions are necessary to foster true inclusivity and accessibility in education.

For example, let’s consider two students from different backgrounds: one from a financially stable household and another facing economic hardships. Equality would mean offering both students the same financial aid package, regardless of their differing needs. Equity, however, would involve assessing the specific financial challenges of each student and providing additional support to the one who needs it more, ensuring both have an equal chance at success.

Focusing on equity is crucial in higher education because it addresses the unique challenges and needs of diverse student populations. Students may face barriers related to their economic background, racial or ethnic identity, disability, or other personal circumstances. 

By prioritizing equity, institutions can create a more inclusive and supportive environment that enables all students to achieve their academic and personal goals.

Examples of inclusive teaching practices and learning environment

Inclusive teaching practices are essential for creating a supportive and engaging educational experience for all students. Here are some examples of inclusive teaching strategies:

  • Differentiated instruction: This method involves tailoring teaching to meet the varied needs of students. Educators use various instructional strategies to cater to different learning styles and abilities. 
  • Culturally responsive teaching: This approach recognizes the importance of including students' cultural backgrounds in the learning process. Educators can incorporate examples, case studies, and readings that reflect the diverse cultures of their students.
  • Universal design for learning (UDL): Based on scientific insights, UDL is a framework that helps improve and optimize teaching and learning for everyone. It emphasizes flexibility and suggests providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression to remove barriers to learning. 

Educators who are looking to create a genuinely equitable learning environment can take several practical steps, such as:

  • Diversify the curriculum to include a wide range of voices and perspectives. 
  • Provide a sense of belonging by creating an environment where students feel welcomed and valued.
  • Encourage the development of sensitivity training programs that help raise awareness about unconscious biases, cultural competence, and the importance of using inclusive language.
  • Implement mechanisms for students to provide feedback on their learning experience.
  • Encouraging active listening to help ensure everyone’s perspectives are heard and respected.

By implementing these inclusive teaching practices and creating an environment that acknowledges and respects diversity, educators can ensure that all students have the resources and support they need to thrive. 

The future of equity in higher education

The future of equity in higher education is unfolding amidst a complex interplay of ongoing research, policy changes, societal shifts, and technological advancements. These factors collectively signal a promising trajectory towards more inclusive and accessible learning environments for students from all backgrounds.

Educators like Rich Reddick, a leader for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in higher education, as well as UNESCO have highlighted the necessity for institutions to adopt new, effective strategies for addressing DEI concerns. Additionally, recent policy initiatives, such as the Department of Education's Equity Action Plan, reflect a commitment to promoting equity within the education system. 

The OECD is also at the forefront of the call for equity. They’ve conducted research that emphasizes the importance of equity in education not only for individual success but also for fostering well-educated citizens who contribute to stronger economies and more resilient societies.

Embracing digital tools and platforms, such as Riipen, represents a pivotal shift towards leveraging technology to facilitate more equitable learning experiences. 

With the dynamic nature of societal values, coupled with demographic changes and economic considerations, this call to action is not just about reforming policies but about embedding equity into the fabric of educational institutions to ensure that every student has equal opportunity to thrive.

Your role in promoting equity

The journey toward achieving true equity in higher education is a collective endeavor that requires the active participation of educators, administrators, and stakeholders at every level. By understanding the nuances of equity and embracing innovative solutions, you can play a pivotal role in shaping a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape.


Educators have the unique opportunity to influence their students' learning experiences directly. Incorporating inclusive teaching practices, such as differentiated instruction, culturally responsive teaching, and universal design for learning, can make a significant difference. 

Additionally, educators can commit to continuous learning about equity, diversity, and inclusion to enrich their teaching methodologies and ensure that all students feel seen and supported.


Administrators are in a position to lead by example, setting the tone for an institution's commitment to equity. This can involve policy development that explicitly addresses equity and inclusion, providing resources for training and development in diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, and creating spaces for open dialogue about equity issues. 

Implementing equity audits and feedback mechanisms can also help identify areas for improvement and measure progress over time.


All stakeholders, including students, parents, and community members, have a role in advocating for equity. This can involve supporting initiatives that promote inclusivity, participating in community outreach programs, and fostering partnerships with organizations dedicated to advancing equity in education.

Leveraging technology

Embracing technology and innovative platforms like Riipen is a powerful way to enhance equity in education. Through Riipen, educators can connect with industry partners from around the world in order to facilitate real-world work-based learning experiences.

Riipen operates by allowing educators to integrate industry projects directly into their curriculum, giving students the opportunity to work on real challenges faced by businesses and organizations. 

This hands-on approach not only enhances learning outcomes but also ensures that students from all backgrounds can gain practical experience and develop skills highly valued by employers.

For example, Arizona State University’s partnership with Riipen has delivered experiences to more than 12,000 experiences for students who would not have had equal access to these opportunities before. 

Additionally, the University of California Riverside was able to overcome visa hurdles for its international students and provide them with work-based learning experiences and internships through the platform. These opportunities have enriched students’ learning experiences and better prepared them for life outside the classroom.

 Through Riipen, students have the chance to:

  • Showcase their abilities.
  • Network with potential employers.
  • Apply their academic knowledge to solve practical problems.
  • Receive real-time feedback and support.
  • Collaborate with their peers and gain hands-on experience.

This helps to level the playing field for those who may not have access to such opportunities through traditional means. On top of that, the platform accommodates a wide range of disciplines and industries. So no matter what a student’s area of study is, they can benefit from the opportunities provided through the platform.

By integrating Riipen into educational programs, institutions can ensure that students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to gain practical experience and skills relevant to their future careers.


Jump ahead:

Key takeaways

  • Equity involves ensuring access, opportunities, and fair treatment for all students and aims to level the playing field beyond mere equality.
  • Inclusive teaching strategies such as differentiated instruction, culturally responsive teaching, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are essential for creating supportive and engaging learning environments for all students. 
  • Achieving equity is a collective effort involving faculty members, administrators, and stakeholders.

Schedule a free demo to discover the possibilities and start your journey toward a more inclusive and equitable educational environment.

Enter your email address to subscribe to The Riipen Report.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Some Form Elements
hs-form is main form class.
form-columns-1 is class of wrapper with 1 column for inputs.
form-columns-2 is class of wrapper with 2 columns for inputs.
input and label
Field Description / Help text
This is help text for the field
Field error message
hs-error-msgs inputs-list
  • Error message label
hs-error-msgs inputs-list is an HTML list element.
hs-error-msg is a text span inside HTML List Item element.
Text area Input
hs-input hs-fieldtype-textarea
hs-fieldtype-textarea is added as combo class.
Note: HubSpot uses basic HTML checkboxes, Webflow checkboxes works differently than the default HTML checkboxes, hence in order to style HubSpot checkboxes you need custom CSS.
you can use Webflow checkbox to style and then copy CSS from it.
Radio Buttons
Success message
Submit button
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.