Partnering to bolster education equity
ASU Sanford School teaches introductory sociology to high schools in partnership with National Education Equity Lab
Each week, graduate teaching fellows from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University lead online discussions with high school students nationwide, focusing on contemporary sociological topics like law, culture and globalization. Their goal is not just to learn together, but to enhance educational equity in a groundbreaking partnership that brings introductory college courses to high school students.
Through a partnership with the National Education Equity Lab, a national nonprofit, high-achieving students from Title I or disadvantaged high schools can earn transferable college credit at no cost to them. In a mission to increase college access, the National Education Equity Lab allows students to attend classes from their high school computer labs — reducing the need for home internet and computer access, which students may not have.
Using ASU Learning Enterprise's Universal Learner Courses for remote learning, ASU offers classes on various topics through this partnership, such as poetry in America, cloud computing and, in this case, Introductory Sociology. Now in its third semester, Introductory Sociology covers a range of topics in human society — from environmental issues to class conflict.
Teaching fellows, many of whom are sociology graduate students or alumni, utilize materials developed by ASU professors and instructional designers. At the end of the semester, their students receive transferable college credit for completing and passing the course.
The goal is for students to be able to apply for college with a head start and newfound confidence. Indeed, many students end up applying to ASU and other universities — some of whom never previously considered college but developed the interest after succeeding in a college-level course.
One of the course’s teaching fellows, Karen Gribosh, says it’s gratifying to see these students continue their education.
“I’ve enjoyed the connections we are able to make in such a short period of time, seeing them engage and show interest in the topics,” Gribosh said. “A big reward for me is hearing of some of the students applying for ASU and other colleges.”
Achievement is high, with the National Education Equity Lab citing that over 80% of students pass these university-partnered courses. Many more go above and beyond. In the spring semester of ASU’s sociology course alone, dozens of students earned their way into the National Education Equity Lab Honor Society, meaning they scored in the top 20% of learners nationwide. The National Education Equity Lab honored them for their accomplishments in a ceremony Aug. 23.
Besides bolstering success for students from Title I schools, the course also serves as an enriching experience for teaching fellows. In some cases, the partnership has influenced career paths, with one fellow deciding to work for the National Education Equity Lab full time after teaching the course. Others have remained in their roles longer than they initially planned, motivated by the mission.
Teaching fellow Brandi Mayo, who first joined the course while pursuing a graduate degree in sociology, shares that the class doesn’t feel like just a job — it feels like “a life experience.”
“I have been energized by the students’ engagement with the content, and I love being in the virtual classroom with each class, as they are all uniquely different,” she said. “Overall, this experience has given me more than I had ever thought possible.”
As the course continues to expand, the waiting list for high schools to participate only grows. With the support of these teaching fellows and university professors like Jennifer Harrison, who developed much of the SOC 101 teaching materials, this course is positioned to make a tangible difference in students’ lives and shows no signs of slowing down.