What Inclusive Excellence Means to College Students

Inclusive excellence supports diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts on college campuses. Learn how schools can create an infrastructure of support.

portrait of Debbi Johnson-Rais, Ed.D.
by Debbi Johnson-Rais, Ed.D.

Published on June 21, 2022

Reviewed by Laila Abdalla, Ph.D.

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What Inclusive Excellence Means to College Students
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To create a truly diverse college campus, inclusive excellence provides access, engagement, and support to all students and employees.

From various racial, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds, physical and intellectual abilities, sexual orientations, and gender expressions, everyone should feel included — and supported — on their college campus.

Many college students and employees are calling for participation in activities based in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Campuses have become more diverse over the years. However, diverse student input, in terms of a diverse campus culture, is not always considered.

Successful DEI initiatives generate student-informed activities, coupled with systemic and interdisciplinary approaches. Inclusive excellence provides a model for intentional and interconnected DEI opportunities that meet the need for involvement.

What Is Inclusive Excellence?

The components of diversity, equity, and inclusion make up the framework for inclusive excellence, which seeks to build a culture of equitable access and engagement for all.

The model is the result of a 2002 American Association of Colleges and Universities' report showing student success for low-income and historically excluded learners was not matching increased enrollment.

The resulting Making Excellence Inclusive framework serves to address these gaps in success.

Inclusive excellence is an intentional practice that recognizes the need for applying a broader definition of diversity that encompasses both social and individual differences.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the inclusive excellence model encourages an understanding of diverse cultures, explores new intellectual skills and different formats of learning (eg., integrative learning), and helps individuals discover their roles and responsibilities within a complex environment.

Putting Inclusive Excellence Into Action

Inequity in college admissions begins with disparities in recruitment practices. And it continues with a lack of comprehensive initiatives supporting diversity.

The inclusive excellence framework seeks to address this gap through the incorporation of best DEI practices in the areas of access, campus climate and organizations, curriculum, infrastructure, and career and community relationships.

It is intentional work, focusing on programs that increase inclusivity — and don't simply acknowledge it on paper.

Inclusive excellence focuses on providing access and support to students and employees from a variety of racial, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds, physical and intellectual abilities, sexual orientations, and gender expressions to create a genuinely diverse campus environment.

It places inclusivity as the core of the institution's mission statement. And it actively pursues engagement and creates learning environments in which they can thrive.

According to NACE, this multidimensional and integrative approach serves to provide clear language around objectives for diversity programs, as well as specific ways to assess their efficacy.

It also is action-oriented, encouraging the development of policies that are institutionwide in their reach. Finally, this approach requires evidence-based and data-driven decision-making for greatest effectiveness.

Equity of access can be achieved through greater collaboration with high school programs that facilitate greater college preparation for students, making them more competitive college candidates. Support on site can be provided through faculty mentoring, early research opportunities, summer bridge programs, learning communities, and peer-tutoring programs.

Essential learning outcomes for these programs include knowledge of various cultures and the physical world, different intellectual and practical skills, disparate attitudes toward individual and social responsibility — all via multiple methods of pedagogy.

The Impact of Inclusive Excellence

Inclusivity looks different depending on the population, which is why it is critical to prioritize an interconnected approach.

For example, students with disabilities require an institutional awareness of the distinct needs they have, in order to get appropriate support. Students from LGBTQ+ communities must be able to explore their academic experience safely — in an environment that promotes anti-discrimination policies and provides student organizations, faculty, and staff to support them.

Students from underserved communities also benefit from student and institutional organizations that provide cultural and academic support. But they also benefit from faculty and staff from their communities who understand and reflect their needs.

These connections provide representation throughout the institution, opportunities for academic mentoring and growth, and cultural support for all students on campus.

Opportunities for engagement and learning increase understanding between all populations — therefore, creating an environment of inclusive excellence that benefits all students, but specifically retains historically underserved groups.

Schools Taking Action Toward Inclusive Excellence

Inclusive excellence requires a multi-pronged approach that begins with admission practices and continues through to graduation. It involves a closer look at recruitment for employees as well as students and what support for retention, graduation, and career development are provided.

Academic institutions may focus on developing critical organizations and activities that support diversity. The culture of the institution profits when it helps students and employees excel. And these students and employees must be able to see concrete evidence of this support.

Special interest groups, a diverse faculty and staff, campus dialogues, student organization events, and visiting lecturers all contribute to these opportunities that create belonging.

Academic opportunities such as study abroad, internships, and experiential learning programs help provide students with unique development that expands their world view and supports post-graduation career goals.

Different teaching formats — e.g., integrative or flipped learning — also support students with different learning styles or from various backgrounds to learn more about and excel in the role they play in the global community.

Finally, institutional support can also come through collaboration across colleges for a more integrated network of support.

Frequently Asked Questions About Inclusive Excellence

How do you practice inclusive excellence? true

Inclusive excellence involves a multidimensional approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion that goes beyond simply an acknowledgment of its importance. It requires policies and procedures to be implemented from recruitment to graduation and is systemwide.

Inclusive excellence focuses on the access to college for minority students, their academic success while in college, a campus climate conducive to belonging, engagement in scholarly activities that are diverse, and an infrastructure focused on inclusive practices on campus and in the greater community.

Inclusive excellence is about actively creating inclusivity for all populations, and must extend to racial minorities, LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities, as well as other groups.

Why is inclusive excellence important? true

Inclusive excellence is important because it is transformative on a systemic level, considering the intersectionality of challenges students face today.

Students are looking for a sense of belonging on campus. And inclusive excellence provides a framework within which it is possible to create this climate.

Inclusive excellence delivers opportunities for all students to connect with each other — but also for the curriculum to be responsive to the reality of diversity, and for institutional policies to reflect inclusion.

This is critical to the well-being of all students, and also to the health of an institution.

What are common elements of diversity? true

Diversity involves access, representation, and support for individuals of different races, gender identities, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, religions and other affiliations. In a higher education setting, it can also include diversity in learning abilities and styles.

According to the 2021 NACE DEI annual report, diversity alone is not sufficient. Inclusion is also a requirement to truly diverse communities.

This means that all student groups must also be able to engage with their environments and, consequently, increase their understanding and knowledge accordingly.

This creates opportunities for students and employees to increase their competency in dealing with diverse populations on their campuses and the global community.