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Equity and Academic ROI

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This article originally appeared in the May 2024 School Business Affairs magazine and may be reprinted with permission of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO). The text herein does not necessarily represent the views or policies of ASBO International, and use of this imprint does not imply any endorsement or recognition by ASBO International and its officers or affiliates.

Equity and Academic ROI

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, equity and Academic Return on Investment (ROI) have emerged as critical factors in shaping successful and inclusive educational systems. This article delves into the intricate relationship between these two elements, exploring how school business officials can effectively balance them to enhance educational outcomes. Through a comprehensive examination of equity versus equality and strategies for equitable resource distribution, this article provides insights into how school business officials can be agents of change. The goal is to equip school business officials with the knowledge and tools needed to foster an educational environment where every student can thrive, irrespective of their background. 

Before delving into the journey of Academic Return on Investment, a district must establish its priorities and define the metrics for success. The initial step involves preparing the district’s strategic plan, which should serve as the guiding document for determining the aspects to be measured. Moreover, incorporating the district’s goals and vision is essential. These elements will offer detailed guidance on the strategies the district will employ to achieve these objectives. 

The Connection Between Academic ROI and Equity 

The connection between Academic ROI and equity is pivotal. When schools focus on equitable distribution of resources and opportunities, they lay the foundation for all students to succeed, which in turn maximizes the academic ROI. Investing in equity means allocating resources in a manner that addresses disparities and supports underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. This approach ensures that investments in education yield the highest possible return in student achievement and success. By closely linking academic ROI with equity, school business officials can drive systemic change, leading to more effective and fair educational systems where investments are financially sound and morally and socially responsible. 

Equity in the Educational Context 

Importance of Equity in Education 

Equity and equality are often used interchangeably, yet they represent distinct ideas. Equality in education means providing every student with the same resources and opportunities. It is a uniform approach that does not account for the varied needs, backgrounds, and challenges different students face. In contrast, equity is about fairness and justice in allocating resources, support, and opportunities. It involves recognizing each student’s unique circumstances and providing what they specifically need to achieve academic success. Equity aims to level the playing field so that all students, regardless of their starting point, have an equal chance to succeed. It allocates resources in a way that addresses these differences. Equity is essential in education because it influences students’ ability to learn, grow, and achieve their full potential. 

Key Components of Equity in Education 

  1. Access to Quality Resources: Ensuring all students have access to high-quality teachers, learning materials, technology, and facilities. 
  2. Inclusive Curriculum and Pedagogy: Developing curricula and teaching methods reflecting and respecting students’ diverse backgrounds and experiences. 
  3. Personalized Support: Providing tailored support services, such as tutoring, counseling, and language assistance, to meet individual student needs. 
  4. Safe and Nurturing Environment: Creating a school climate that is physically and emotionally safe, where students feel valued and respected. 
  5. Equitable Funding: Allocating funds in a way that prioritizes the needs of students who may require more resources to achieve parity with their peers. 

Impact of Inequity on Student Outcomes 

Inequity in education can have profound and long-lasting effects on student outcomes. Students from underprivileged backgrounds or those facing systemic barriers often experience lower academic achievement, higher dropout rates, and limited access to advanced educational opportunities.1,2 Inequity can lead to achievement gaps where certain groups of students consistently underperform compared to their peers.1 It also impacts the socio-emotional well-being of students, contributing to lower self-esteem and higher stress levels.2 Over time, educational inequity perpetuates cycles of poverty and social inequality, as students who do not receive equitable educational opportunities are less likely to succeed in higher education and the workforce.3 Addressing inequity is thus a matter of educational justice and a critical step toward building a more equitable society. 

Academic ROI: Understanding the Metrics

Academic ROI

Academic Return on Investment (ROI) is a metric that evaluates the effectiveness of educational investments in terms of student learning outcomes and achievements. Unlike traditional financial ROI, which concentrates solely on monetary gain, academic ROI quantifies the educational value from investment in school programs, technologies, and teaching methodologies. This metric helps identify which educational strategies yield the highest impact on student learning and development, guiding better decision-making in resource allocation. This measurement is vital for ensuring that investments in education are financially prudent and effectively enhance student learning and prepare them for future success. It guides educators, administrators, and policymakers to make informed decisions that optimize fiscal resources and educational outcomes. 

This calculation is measured through the following formula:

Measuring Academic Success and ROI 

Measuring academic success and ROI involves a combination of qualitative and quantitative assessments. Key factors include: 

  1. Student Achievement Metrics: Standardized test scores, graduation rates, and college readiness indicators. 
  2. Program Evaluation: Analysis of specific educational programs and interventions, assessing their impact on student performance and engagement. 
  3. Cost-Benefit Analysis: Comparing the costs of educational initiatives with the benefits of improved student outcomes along with number of students served.  
  4. Opportunity Costs:  By selecting to fund certain programs, you may be choosing not to fund others. It’s important to consider what those other opportunities may bring.  
  5. Long-term Outcomes: Evaluating the long-term impact of educational investments on students’ career success and societal contributions. 
  6. Stakeholder Feedback: Incorporating feedback from students, teachers, and parents to understand educational strategies’ perceived value and effectiveness. 

Linking Academic ROI to Resource Allocation 

The concept of Academic ROI is closely tied to resource allocation within educational settings. By understanding the return on educational investments, school business officials can make more strategic decisions about where to allocate resources. The goal is to increase effectiveness while benefiting the greatest number of students. You can use the visual below to identify programs in the upper left that may be abandoned, while programs in the upper right and bottom left are opportunities to evaluate, and programs in the bottom right are opportunities to possibly expand.  

Seek Greatest Benefit

This process involves:

  • Prioritizing High-Impact Investments: Directing funds towards programs and initiatives that have demonstrated a high ROI in terms of student achievement and well-being.
  • Equity-Focused Spending: Allocating resources in a way that addresses educational disparities and supports underrepresented or disadvantaged student populations.
  • Data-Informed Decision Making: Utilizing data and metrics to inform resource allocation decisions ensures that investments are effective and equitable.
  • Continuous Evaluation: Regularly assessing the impact of resource allocation decisions on academic ROI to refine and improve future investment strategies.

By effectively linking academic ROI to resource allocation, school systems can maximize the impact of their financial investments and foster a more equitable and successful educational environment for all students.

The Role of School Business Officials in Promoting Equity

Importance of Financial Decision-Making

School business officials play a pivotal role in shaping the educational landscape through their financial decision-making. Their decisions directly impact the quality of education and the level of equity within the school system. By prioritizing equity in their financial planning and decision-making, school business officials can help bridge the gap in educational opportunities and outcomes, especially for underserved and marginalized student populations. Their role extends beyond mere budget management; it encompasses advocating for equitable educational practices and ensuring that every financial decision aligns with the broader goal of providing fair and inclusive educational opportunities.

Strategies for Equitable Resource Distribution

  1. Needs-Based Funding Models: Adopting funding models that allocate more resources to schools and students with greater needs.
  2. Targeted Investments: Investing in programs and initiatives specifically designed to support disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.
  3. Collaborative Planning: Engaging with educators, parents, and community members to understand the unique needs of all student groups and tailor resource allocation accordingly.
  4. Transparent Reporting: Maintaining transparency in financial decisions and reporting to build trust and ensure accountability for distributed resources.
  5. Regular Assessment and Adjustments: Continuously assess the effectiveness of resource allocation strategies and adjust to serve all students better. Some buckets of programming may fall into the following categories:
  • Expand the programs that are working well
  • Keep it as is and continue to monitor
  • Different programs may work at different schools
  • Fix bad implementations and what is not working
  • Sunset programs that are not serving your needs

Emerging Technologies and Tools for Equity and ROI

The future of educational equity and ROI is closely tied to the advancement of technology. Emerging tools like artificial intelligence and data analytics are revolutionizing how educational resources are allocated and utilized. These technologies offer unprecedented opportunities for personalized learning, enabling educators to tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of each student. Additionally, data analytics tools can provide deeper insights into the effectiveness of educational programs, helping allocate resources in a way that maximizes A-ROI while promoting equity. Integrating these technologies into education systems promises a more efficient, effective, and equitable educational landscape.

Call to Action for School Business Officials

School business officials are encouraged to prioritize equity in their financial and policy decisions. This involves adopting a data-driven approach to identify and address disparities, ensuring equitable resource allocation, and advocating for policies that support underrepresented groups. Embracing innovation and staying informed about emerging trends and technologies will also be crucial in adapting to the evolving educational landscape. School business officials should view themselves as catalysts for change with the power to impact the future of education significantly.

The interplay between equity and academic ROI is complex but integral to the success of educational institutions and, more importantly, to the success of students from all backgrounds. The path toward a more equitable educational system is a continuous journey requiring commitment, innovation, and collaboration. By focusing on equity, we enhance academic outcomes and contribute to building a more just and inclusive society.

Resources and Further Reading

  1. The Equity and Excellence Commission’s Report to the Secretary” by the U.S. Department of Education.
  2. The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms” by C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker C. Johnson, and Claudia Persico.
  3. The Education Trust ( – Focuses on educational justice and closing opportunity gaps.
  4. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning ( – Offers research and best practices on holistic education approaches.
  5. Levenson, N (2011, December 1) Academic ROI: What Does the Most good? ASCD Academic ROI: What Does the Most Good? (
  6. Kavanagh, S, Levenson, N (2017, November) Academic Return on  Investment: Foundations and Smart Practices.
  7. Leach, S, Yan, B: Academic Return-on-Investment (AROI) and Budget Decision-Making:

Dr. Taylor Plumblee

Dr. Taylor Plumblee is an experienced education executive with demonstrated success in education management and marketing. She joined Frontline Education in 2021 and is the Manager of Product and Solution Marketing with a focus on Student & Business Solutions including School Health Management, Special Program Management, Student Information Systems, and Data & Analytics.