Diversity in Higher Education: How to Get American Colleges to Catch Up to the 21st Century
As we become more fully entrenched in the 21st century, the American workplace becomes more diverse. But American colleges and universities still have a way to come before they can fully serve the changing demographics of the American labor market. How do we increase diversity in higher education. Stick around and find out:
- Which schools reflect the diversity of our country and workforce
- What colleges and universities can do to attract talent from all backgrounds
- The shocking truth about diversity on the faculty level in most American colleges
The world we live in now
For many Americans, a shift is well underway.
HBCUs, for example, have served the purpose of adding greater diversity to the workforce by graduating more students of color. Yet, even today, inequalities exist in the workforce, and HBCUs need to prepare their students for this reality. Let’s look into this a little deeper.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities have always been places that encourage greater diversity when it comes to higher education, both on their campuses and in the greater college landscape. From their origins as being the only places people of color could go for a college education to their role today as welcoming all students and instilling cultural awareness, HBCUs stand as models of multicultural learning at its best.
Are HBCUs doing enough to prepare their students for the real workplace, though?
The reason so many college administrators, myself included, stand firmly by the necessity of HBCUs in contemporary college education is this: HBCUs provide a heightened diversity-centric environment that is not able to be duplicated in other settings. This is why these schools are so fantastic. But is all that idealism blindsiding our students later on? Do HBCUS give students a false sense of what to expect in the real workplace? There has to be a blending of what is actually happening in the workplace with what the ideal CAN be with the right people who work for it.
So how can HBCUs promote diversity while still preparing their students for the reality of the American workplace today?
Tell the truth.
Start with the facts of the workplace reality right now, today, this moment. This is so vital to students’ understanding of what they are going to face in the workplace. Yes, diversity is increasing in most fields (thanks in part to better college recruiting and minority programs) but things like the wage gap between minorities (including women) and white men have to be addressed. It’s okay to present these facts and not have a concrete solution in place. It is the responsibility of HBCUs to let their students know what they are up against – and inspire these students to make changes when given the opportunity.
Instead of teaching our students how to work for someone else, we should be training them to be leaders. This is true in every field and in every classroom. Have a group of education students? Encourage them to take that next step and become administrators. Students in health care? Set them up to be accepted to medical school. If you have a class of students who are interested in computer science, suggest pairing it with a business or entrepreneurship double major or minor. We should show our students the path to the next level, one step above what they are hoping to achieve, so that they can become the diverse decision-makers of tomorrow’s workplace.
Teach legal rights.
Our students should know what the boundaries are in workplaces when it comes to discrimination and how to recognize unfair treatment. We need to tell them how to report it, file lawsuits and hold their employers (or potential employers) accountable. At the same time, we should be sure our students aren’t wasting too much time in their careers looking for problems. It is important to know when something is unfair, but to put energy into building up careers for their benefit too.
Empower them with knowledge.
As cheesy as it may sound, an education is everything when it comes to breaking through workplace barriers. Minorities and women have to work twice or three times as hard as their peers to earn as much respect and money in the same roles. It’s not fair, but it is a fact – at least at this point in our country’s history as an economic powerhouse. What is learned in classrooms can’t be taken away, or denied. We have to encourage our students to be lifelong learners and love knowledge for the sake of it. That excitement about learning is what will keep them ahead in their fields and help them impart that empowerment to the next generation of students.
There is no way to completely change diversity in the workplace overnight but I truly believe that HBCU graduates have the best shot at improving it significantly. As instructors and administrators, we need to make sure our students are taking the best of diversity practices with them when they leave our campuses, but not entering the American workforce completely blind to its realities. It is our responsibility to teach our students what they can expect, but also how to be the change that they want to see.
But tomorrow will be different…
…And “tomorrow” is happening right before our eyes. The truth is that, while minorities will need to be prepared for a challenging workforce, the American workforce also needs to be prepared for increasing diversity. And that attention to diversity should begin in college, where many students train for their future careers.
Every college or university holds a diverse student population as a value and goal, at least on paper. Institutions of higher education have written ideology that seeks the best and brightest from all backgrounds to attend their classes. Here’s the thing though. Achieving diversity is hard. A balanced campus, either physically or remotely, takes more than words on paper. It takes the conscious, aggressive effort by the decision makers at a college or university to even stand a chance of reaching reality status.
I was recently looking over a list compiled by College Factual of the most diverse college campuses in the U.S. Factors like ethnic, geographic and gender diversity were taken into account to come up with an overall diversity score and ranking. I skimmed through the top 10 overall schools and noticed something interesting: three of them are located in Hawaii. More specifically, all three are located in Honolulu.
- Hawaii Pacific University, ranked #1. This private school has an overall diversity score of 91.4 percent, with ethnic diversity at 92.1.
- Chaminade University of Honolulu, ranked #2. This school has a ranking of 86.3 for overall diversity, with 100 percent ethnic diversity.
- University of Hawaii at Manoa, ranked #4. This public university has an overall diversity ranking of 78.6 percent, with a 93.2 percent male to female ratio (higher by several points over the other two schools on this list).
Now what’s especially important to note on this list is that geographic diversity plays a role in overall score. So this means that the variation of these students does not simply stem from people of Hawaiian descent who go to these schools. There are diverse people from all over the nation and world who grace these campuses. Of course there is a geographic advantage – Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the world – but aside from that obvious point, what are these schools doing right to bring in diverse students?
Strong International Programs
Hawaii Pacific University has students from 80 nations that attend, landing it on U.S. News and World Report’s list for universities with the most international students. This is not accidental. The school, and the others on this list, work hard to bring in students from all corners of the world. Strong international programs ensure that an inclusive culture is part of the college experience and the schools with the highest levels of diversity know this and implement it.
Strong Master’s Programs
Another area where these Hawaiian schools excel is in education programs that go beyond basic undergraduate programs. Hawaii Pacific University, for example, is recognized by the Institute for International Education as one of the top thirty most diverse master’s programs in the world.
Strong Connections with the World Economy
These Honolulu-based schools are all located in the Pacific Rim – one of the fastest growing economic regions of the world. These schools do an excellent job of tapping into that through expert faculty, job placement and partnerships with businesses in the region. The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Shidler College of Business consistently lands on “top” lists, mainly for its connections with other universities and businesses in Asia. The students can also participate in immersive study abroad programs. An understand of what is happening in economies outside the immediate needs of a university not only attracts a more diverse student body, but leads to a wider scope of graduates.
So what can every other college learn from these diverse campuses in Honolulu? The first thing is that diversity should never be limited to the swath of people who live in the geographic area of that school. Yes, colleges (particularly public ones) have a responsibility to educate their immediate populations, but the search for diverse students should always be looked at from a global perspective.
The second takeaway is that more and more students are looking for a higher level of education than an undergraduate degree. There are also many non-traditional students who return to graduate school and need the welcoming atmosphere of a diverse, inclusive campus to feel comfortable.
Finally, if institutions of higher education really want to make a mark on diversity, it’s imperative to find ways to connect all students with the diverse workforce. For some schools, this may mean international connections and for others, it may mean just contacting local businesses and looking for a variety of partnerships. Making the connection between a diverse campus and a diverse workforce is imperative to creating students bodies that are varied, and represent many different cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ethnicities.
More strategies colleges can use to welcome students of diverse backgrounds.
Improving campus diversity is a multi-level effort, and the solutions for doing so are as creative as they are targeted and highly structured. Here are just a few of them:
- Full-ride scholarships
The cost of going to college can be a deal-breaker. Even with Pell grants, scholarships, and some student loans, the overwhelming ticket price of higher education is a major deterrent. This is especially true for minorities, first generation college students, and those coming from low socio-economic backgrounds. There is both a legitimate concern over what that college degree will cost, as well as a cultural barrier that often tells these students a college education is just not for them (both within their circles, and outside them).
But what if colleges were to take away cost as a factor – completely? Throughout the country there are schools that are combatting low diversity numbers with a novel idea: full-ride scholarships for those who qualify.
Now full-ride scholarships are certainly nothing new. They’ve been given out to promising students, and those in financial need, and athletes for decades. What’s so different about this new slew of full-ride initiatives is that they acknowledge a lack of diversity and are targeting minorities, women and underserved students.
The University of Michigan recently rolled out a full-ride scholarship program that targets students as young as 7th grade. The Wolverine Pathways initiative seeks to find students of academic promise from racial and socioeconomic disadvantage and give them a chance to earn a full ride to the university by the time they graduate from high school. Students will be paired with tutors and mentors in three academic sessions per year. If they complete the sessions successfully, and are then accepted to the university, they will be given a scholarship for four years.
It’s certainly needed at Michigan, where only 12.8 percent of the 2015 freshman class are minorities. The school saw a dip from the height of its minority representation (which was only 13.8 in 2015) after affirmative action was struck down for college admissions. Since then, the university claims it has looked for ways to boost its diversity – and the Wolverine Pathways program could finally do just that.
Arizona State University also announced a full-ride program for new MBA students in the fall of 2016 that is designed to improve diversity. Based on the student’s residency, the scholarship could be valued as high as $94,000.
But will these and other full-ride programs actually work?
Finances are certainly an obstacle when it comes to creating diverse college campuses but it is not the only issue. College freshman from homes with no college graduates are at a higher risk of dropping out that first year. Students who have never learned basic life skills, including how to budget and pay bills, often get overwhelmed at college and drop out to start earning immediate money instead.
Then there is the whole idea of young people being handed something they don’t truly understand the value of – and squandering it. It’s usually a decade or more later when college dropouts of all races and backgrounds look back and realize that they probably should’ve stayed in school. That’s around the time their college-educated peers are finally paying off those student loans, advancing in their careers, and finally cashing in on the quality of life that a college education provides. It’s very difficult to explain to an 18 or 19-year-old student the total value of a college education, both in the immediate and over the long term. Not having to pay for that value could translate into students who do not respect that education the way they should. This is not a point specific to minorities, but to young people in general.
So how can colleges and universities bring in diverse students, retain them, and graduate them debt-free?
It starts with the teaching and mentorship structure, like the one Michigan has in place, but needs to continue to college campuses. Students who we know are statistically more likely to drop out need hands-on guidance counselors, and mentors, and professors who work hard to keep them engaged and learning. There needs to be retention programs in place that actively check in on progress and don’t simply offer an open-door policy. All of this is vital if colleges are serious about having a diverse student population that succeeds on its grounds.
For programs like the one at Arizona State, it also means more targeted recruitment. If you say you are lowering financial barriers in order to bring in a more diverse student group, then you must find that student group and offer them spots. That takes a lot of dedication but is well worth it.
The bottom line is this: Simply giving students free access to a college degree is not enough for those students to succeed. Colleges and universities offering these types of programs need to recognize how the financial constraints of college are simply one issue on the road to attaining a degree. Academic support, mentorship, cultural inclusion and so many other factors must also play a role in these incentives for them to truly be successful at boosting campus and workplace diversity.
- With athletes
And not in the way you might think, either.
This isn’t about getting more athletes on college campuses, though.
Think of what having strong minority role models can do for students. Successful people who look like the students a particular college or university is trying to graduate, and who come from a similar background, can leave a lasting impression and inspire students to similar heights.
One particular group of minority mentors that I feel should be getting even more involved in the minority recruiting and mentorship process is student athletes. Whether still athletes at the school, or alumni, this particular subset of minority mentors should play an important role in graduating other traditionally disadvantaged students.
Maurice Clarett as mentor
Maurice Clarett, an Ohio State University alum, is a college-athlete-turned-minority-mentor. The former college running back has taken on a new role as both a cautionary tale, and inspiration, to other young people. If his name sounds familiar, it is because his claim to fame was not just on the football field or as a national champion in the sport. Clarett served four years in prison for aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon. It was behind bars that he started reading up on personal development and ways to grow beyond a delinquent and even ways to rise above his association with being a football star.
Today he talks with other college athletes about things like personal responsibility and being accountable for actions, no matter what their upbringing. Clarett has visited athletes at Alabama, Notre dame, Tennessee and Mississippi State. He recently spoke with the national champion Florida State football team and acknowledged that many minority college athletes come from home environments that leave them “undeveloped” and without the skills needed to function successfully in life. Taking advantage of the resources available on college campuses and determining to be better than life’s circumstances are two lessons that Clarett tries to pass along to the people he mentors.
A story like Clarett’s is so much more powerful than the seemingly-empty warnings from adults on college campuses, many of whom look nothing like the students they are trying to influence and have no shared life experiences. By finding ways to tap into the stories of athletes, colleges can give their students a more impactful way of committing to success.
Mirroring smart mentorship
Traditionally getting into college on an athletic scholarship has been a way that minorities have been able to break onto college campuses, particularly if they came from educational environments that simply did not offer the same resources as advantaged peers. I’d argue that getting these athletes to graduation day is simply not enough; a whole other realm of life skills is needed to ensure that they are successful long after their athletic playing days have passed. When the cheers die down and the attention turns to the more practical things in life, these student athletes need ground to stand on. Pairing them up with mentors, or at the very least bringing in former athletes to share their after-college success stories, is a great way to inspire greatness that lasts a lifetime.
Leadership. Teamwork. Hard work. Earning a “win.” Losing gracefully. All of these are lessons that college athletes know in the context of their respective sports. Translating that to life beyond college can be challenging but can be made much easier with the help of mentors that have a common understanding with the students they address. Schools should make this as much a priority as recruiting minority students to sports and academic programs. Colleges and universities have a responsibility to their students to prepare them for all aspects of life and proper mentorship can be a necessary building block in that process.
- Without athletes
We’ve all heard the fairytale stories before: a minority kid from a tough neighborhood gets a shot at a college career because he or she is recruited for a particular sport. Not only do these athletes get to show off their physical talent, but they get a college degree and a more promising future in the process.
Listen, I’m all for athletes landing athletic scholarships if it means that more minority students earn a college degree. But I also know that stories like these, while intentionally heartwarming and media friendly, do not represent the vast majority of minorities with college aspirations. Athletes get a lot of the attention, but if colleges and universities are truly committed to diverse populations of students then they need to put the steps in place to make it easier for all minorities to earn a college degree.
A few of the areas where I think universities could improve on minority programs and recruitment include:
Just as scouts go out and recruit the best basketball or football players for teams, the same should happen with minority students who show promise in the arts. Theater, musical performance, sculpting, painting, film studies and even creative writing – minority students who have talent in these areas should be given attention and invited to college programs. Why arts programs over more practical careers in STEM or healthcare? Minority students with arts passions often feel forced to abandon them in favor of immediate jobs or things that are simply not their passions. Arts careers are considered “silly” for white peers, but almost irresponsible for minority students. This should change and colleges should take the lead on it.
There are some minority students who come from a home where one or both parents are college graduates but those odds are lower than their white peers. All first-generation college students face different challenges and expectations than those for whom college acceptance, success and graduation has always been expected. During the recruiting process, colleges should tout their mentorships programs and make sure minority and first-generation students are aware of the support they will receive when they decide to attend. As much as possible, these mentorship programs should work on matching students based on race, gender and career industry – though aligning all of that is admittedly difficult. Using the same mentor for several students is an option. Particularly in the case of minority students, mentors are generally overjoyed to be able to help a young person succeed. Colleges just need to be asking for that help and then expressing that it exists to their potential minority students.
Creative financial aid.
College is expensive and for students who have to pay for it on their own while supporting themselves, it can be overwhelming. There are no shortage of loans that students can take out to help finance their college careers, but saddling them with debt before they even set foot in the work world can be a recipe for disaster. Colleges that truly want a diverse population of students who succeed after graduation should look into adding more minority scholarships. The “pay it forward” college payment system that is implemented in certain states like Oregon should be considered for wider adoption, especially when it comes to attracting minority and first-generation students to college campuses. College does not need to be completely free in order for more minorities to attend and graduate. It does need to be affordable, though, and that takes some thinking out the normal financial aid box.
Athletes who earn college degrees are certainly inspirational but they are only a small portion of the minorities who want the type of education a college or university can provide. If we really want equality on our college campuses then it will take more than touting the success of our minority football, basketball and track stars. We need to find ways to translate that same success across interests and disciplines, and to give those students the support they need to truly succeed. Part of that process is to make college more affordable for all students. Another piece of that puzzle is targeting areas that are often overshadowed by athletics, like the arts. By understanding the true picture of what potential minority college students are like, colleges and universities can get more of them on campus or enrolling online.
- With heavy-duty recruitment efforts
Recruitment strategies have become more important than ever.
Why? Recently, Michigan banned affirmative action for admittance to public universities and the U.S. Supreme Court may rule on it on a federal level soon. The process that was created during the height of the Civil Rights movement in America may soon be officially considered outdated, and even unfair, by the higher judicial powers.
With affirmative action on its way out, what can colleges do to ensure their campuses still have enough variety in race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds?
Targeted high school recruiting.
The demographics of high schools are readily available, along with the socioeconomic status of them. Colleges that are serious about recruiting a diverse population should target schools with students in the particular demographic they would like to see more of on their campuses. This will not automatically translate into more of those students, but it will mean more consideration from these high schoolers of the colleges that seem to want to help them succeed the most.
Non-traditional student programs.
Many young people who cannot afford college tuition directly after high school end up in the workforce, often in a job that is not their passion or one that does not highlight their talents. By the time these students consider going to college, life has usually taken over in the form of rent, medical and other family expenses. Though colleges are starting to warm up to these adult, “non-traditional” students, there is still much more room for improvement. Launching full-fledged college recruiting programs for non-traditional students will bring in more talent to the college, and will also bring in more diversity in the students who take courses and graduate from there.
By giving preference or priority spots to legacy students, colleges can ensure spots for minority students without the use of affirmative action. Of course no student should be allowed entry to a particular college or university without putting in the actual time and work required of other students. But if all things are considered equal when it comes to academic records, using legacy priority could give minority students the leg up to land that college entry spot.
Targeted marketing campaigns.
If a college knows that it needs to improve the number of Latino students on campus, then a marketing campaign that appeals to those students needs to be developed. This includes visuals that show students like the ones being recruited, along with other cultural and language specifications. Traditional brochures and mailers should be secondary to social media campaigns that target students where they are already consuming content.
Since its inception, affirmative action as it relates to college admittance and graduation numbers for minorities and women has had a strong showing. If that tool is taken away from the college entry process, schools should modify the same concepts to other programs taking place in order to continue recruiting the most diverse college population possible. Without some forethought when it comes to what sorts of students need to be represented, colleges risk a student body that is not actually representative of the greater community. If that happens, all of the triumphs of affirmative action will be lost.
- By reaching future students when they’re still young
Colleges are realizing that if minorities, first-generation students, and other pupils who are considered at-risk are target demographics for their upcoming graduating classes, then recruitment needs to start early. Think middle school, or even earlier. Waiting until junior or senior year of high school presents the risk that the students have already ruled out the possibility of college. Guiding younger students through what it takes to get into college, from grade expectations to community service requirements, ensures that more of the students who give up on college before they have even tried get a real shot at going, and graduating.
Recently 80 colleges and universities announced a new way to accept future students that strays from more mainstream admittance policies of the last few decades. Public schools like Purdue University and the University of Michigan, private schools like University of Chicago and Amherst College, and every Ivy League school are the founding members of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. This group plans to allow portfolio systems for admittance to their schools.
The basic premise is this: Starting freshman year, high school students can upload work and answer other prompts to prepare them for college admittance later on. Students could opt to share information, like completed projects or grades on report cards, with the colleges and gain some feedback during the high school process that will help them land a spot at a university after graduation.
Instead of using the Common Application, a watered-down non-customized but widely used process form, these 80 schools would also allow this comprehensive approach. It’s expected that many more schools will also want to join this coalition, but they must meet specific criteria.
Public colleges can join the coalition if they “provide sufficient financial aid” to those who need it within their respective states. Private colleges can join if they can prove their commitment to providing adequate financial aid to every domestic student. Colleges that have “gapping” problems (where they admit students that cannot afford the school, and give them no path for financial aid) will not be permitted to join the coalition. All schools, public or private, must have a six-year federal graduation rate of 70 percent.
How the new system benefits minorities
Perhaps the best part of this new approach to college admittance is the opportunity for college preparation long before senior year. For students from middle class and upper class families, thinking about colleges usually begins a few years early and happens in the way of picking classes and activities intended to pad a future application. Students from these families often go on college visits as well and meet with university guidance counselors – all coordinated by parents.
In homes where both parents work a lot to earn a living wage, or one parent is absent, it is a challenge just to get kids out the door and on the way to high school. Meticulously looking over next-semester class selections and carving out the time and money to make college visits is simply not an option for these families. In best case scenarios, an involved high school guidance counselor can step up to fill this gap – but too many bright students do not get the chance to go to college because they simply don’t know how to get there (or afford it). This coalition system adds in an extra support “staff” that not only gets kids interested in college early on, but guides them in the right steps to take to get into a program that makes the most sense for them.
This system for college admittance also follows a customized approach to developing student populations. An example given in a Business Insider article on the coalition said that instead of submitting the standard 500-word essay, students could submit something from their portfolio. This speaks more to the person submitting the application, and less to the formulaic ways that schools say “yes” or “no” to the people who want to attend them.
For minorities this means an admittance advantage, even if a particular student is not a strong writer or does not have someone looking over his or her shoulder and offering help with the application. The work that a student is most proud of, or that best represents the field he or she wants to go into, can shine on the application.
The needs-based component of this system will also benefit minority students, who traditionally have had a harder time paying for college. The schools who commit to help all students afford and pay for college, and who succeed in helping them graduate, can be part of this coalition. Predatory college programs that do not take the socioeconomic status of their students into account will be excluded – and therefore be required to offer the basic admittance application that has been in existence for the past few decades.
- By supporting students
For all of the strides college recruiting programs have made, there is still an overarching theme that recruiting new students is an isolated process. Get the kids on campus, then move on to the next batch. In reality, recruiting should be a very small part of a larger strategy that not only brings students of varied backgrounds to campus, but sustains them until graduation. Some schools are improving in this regard, but there’s still a lot of work needed to flip this mentality from one of solitude to solidarity with other student help groups.
Some schools are working on this. The University of Connecticut and Ithaca College made headlines in 2015 when they added a new position to their executive suite: Chief Diversity Officer. While universities have long had diversity task forces and even full-time staff members who work to improve diversity on campus, the move to add such a prominent position is promising.
As more colleges follow suit, the position needs to be more than a figurehead. An editorial for UConn’s The Daily Campus sums it up by saying:
“The hope is that these recommendations hit their mark and help increase diversity in both the student body and faculty. The effort the administration is employing is seen and appreciated. The expectation now is that these efforts are fruitful, and bring meaningful change.”
Another example of an initiative that serves students and promotes diversity is the idea of the Hispanic Serving Institutions.
Before I explain what those are, consider this. Hispanic Americans with dreams of a college degree face different challenges than their white, and even black, peers. For those who hold English as a second language, there are some inherent communication obstacles. For those who are first-generation Americans (or first-generation college students, or both), extra guidance is needed to keep them from feeling overwhelmed by the college journey. Every college student faces obstacles but the challenges in front of Hispanic ones are unique, and growing in importance.
Some colleges and universities have recognized these specific struggles of Hispanic students and found ways to address them. These Hispanic Serving Institutions (or HSIs) don’t just have the rhetoric in place; to qualify for this distinction, a college must consistently have a 25 percent Hispanic student population. These schools must also be non-profit and offer at least two-year degree programs. In other words, HSIs must actually work to serve the Hispanic students they recruit, and not prey upon them.
As HSIs grow in number (in 2013, there were 431), it’s important for all college educators to realize the effect these schools will have on everyone else and why we should embrace Hispanic-friendly college policies.
Hispanic higher education impacts us all.
The U.S. Census reports that by 2060, the number of Hispanic Americans will reach 31 percent of the general population. That’s nearly a third of Americans who will work, study, spend money and live within our borders. Earning a college education for Hispanic students will in turn raise the quality of life for the rest of us, too. On a global scale, America could take a big hit in advancements and innovations if one-third of its population was not educated on a higher level (or even one-tenth of it). The colleges and universities that will succeed in recruiting and graduating large numbers of Hispanic students are the ones that recognize the extreme importance of doing such a thing. This is a not a charity case or a trend in college education. Creating pathways for Hispanic students to go to college and earn their degrees is SMART for the country as a whole.
We can learn, too.
When approaching the best ways to serve and educate Hispanic college students, it’s important to avoid an assimilation stance. Yes, there is a lot these students can learn from our traditional college canon, but there is so much we can learn from them too. This is true for Hispanic students as well as faculty members. As a greater college community, we should recognize that from an educational standpoint, increasing the number of Hispanic students who study on our campuses and graduate with our degrees will expand our own knowledge base too. We shouldn’t only accept Hispanic students but should encourage their viewpoints and allow those to influence our policies and the things we teach.
Change starts on college campuses.
Traditionally, colleges have been recognized as progressive places. Even if the administration of a particular school isn’t forward-thinking, the students usually are. I write a lot about the progressive changes that need to be made on college campuses but not because I think they are failing. I think college campuses hold the most potential of any type of entity to stimulate positive change. That potential is what pushes me to speak out when I think we could be doing more – as administrators, as faculty members, as students.
That is especially true when it comes to turning our campuses into Hispanic Serving Institutions. Critics can argue all they want for assimilation and shout for Hispanic children to “learn English” but the truth is that we all lose a little with that mentality. Colleges are the jumping off points. The policies we put in place and the students who we graduate matter to the rest of the country. We are being watched, if subconsciously, to see how situations ideally should be approached. If we truly want to embrace Hispanic culture as a major part of our American story, present and future, it needs to start in our colleges and universities.
Now, here are a couple of other things to think about when it comes to student body retention.
Many are turning to technology to anticipate problems and reach out to students at risk for dropping out long before they do. Virginia Commonwealth University is one example of a school reaching out to a tech consulting firm to learn more about its students and help struggling students before they withdraw.
Data is used for so many aspects of college life – expect to see more schools tapping it to recruit and maintain diverse student bodies.
Finally, the need for an affordable college education is mentioned so often that it seems that we are all becoming desensitized to it. The reality is that having affordable college, not just providing loans to students, will go a long way towards helping close the achievement gap. Initiatives like providing the first two years of community college for free to qualifying students, and even student loan forgiveness programs for high-demand jobs, are a few ways that the dream of a college degree can become more accessible to minority, first-generation and other at-risk students.
Beware of those schools trying to capitalize on a trend
Turn on your television to any local station during daytime hours, and you’re sure to see a handful of commercials touting the amazing benefits of enrolling in for-profit colleges. These idyllic spots highlight flexible classes, accelerated programs, online classes available from the comfort of home, and more. Usually the information about the particular college is delivered by a once-uneducated person turned career success – often a working dad, or single mom, whose kids are clearly proud of what the parent has accomplished. Obtaining a college education, particularly from the school mentioned, looks so easy to do.
While the description above may seem like the stuff of marketing clichés, it’s a tactic that has worked for many for-profit colleges. Targeting minorities and other non-traditional college students through commercials like these has been the bread-and-butter of for-profit schools for at least the past two decades and those tactics are just now starting to see some legal pushback.
To be clear, not all for-profit colleges are created equal. There are some that boast high graduation rates and seem to have student success at the heart of their endeavors. The very fact that these colleges exist have actually progressed the entire university system in the U.S. by pushing innovative programs, like online degrees, and showing that there truly is a large market for non-traditional college students.
Let’s not kid ourselves though. The non-profit college push is a very thinly-veiled attempt to enroll a volatile market – often the most eligible for federal loan and grant assistance.
The financial facts speak for themselves:
- As of 2014, for-profit colleges served just 13 percent of total higher education students but received 31 percent of federal student loans due to the minority, at-risk and low-income statuses of their students. Former veterans cashing in GI Bills also attend for-profit schools at higher rates than traditional colleges.
- The same report from the U.S. Department of Education reports that half of all students who default on their loans attend a for-profit college.
Which leads to the unavoidable question: Have non-profit colleges preyed upon at-risk students for the sake of making a quick buck?
One of the reasons for-profit schools have seen such a surge in enrollment in the past two decades can really be pinned on the smart marketing of two words: flexibility and acceleration. For students who simply did not have the funds, nor desire to incur college debt, right after high school, for-profit schools have stepped up as a second chance, of sorts. These colleges are places where non-traditional students can continue to work and take flexible courses, many or all of which are online. Most for-profit schools also offer a faster route to degree attainment, which peaks the interest of students who don’t want to dedicate years of their lives to college aspirations but are looking for a way to advance their careers. The University of Phoenix, perhaps the most recognizable name in for-profit online colleges, recently announced a new initiative to count other course work and work experience towards degree attainment. This initiative, and others like it, is designed to recruit students who don’t want to start from square one and don’t have the time to commit to a traditional college experience.
So what is wrong with either of these options? Nothing, in theory. Flexibility and accelerated degrees are a good fit for many students who otherwise could not chase any sort of college degree. Where many non-profits fail their students, however, is in charging astronomical rates and not offering enough support to keep students enrolled until graduation. In essence, these schools market well enough to get the students enrolled in courses but don’t do enough to guide them to their degrees. All the flexibility in the world can’t help a student understand a difficult concept, or learn better time/study management skills. Accelerated programs without mentorship options run the risk of burning students out, especially if they have no inspiration or focus.
It’s clear that the recent outcry for accountability for non-profit colleges is long overdue. Students deserve better than what they’ve been served by these institutions, and quite frankly, so does the entire American population. It’s time for these schools to deliver on their promise of career success for those who enroll – and that starts with student support that extends beyond recruitment.
Don’t forget about diversity at the faculty level, too
Each year, colleges and universities pay professional search firms millions of dollars to find qualified candidates for vacant positions. Having the best and brightest on their staffs is important for student recruitment, growth and accolades. Recruiting the strongest faculty team possible is a vital goal of every college and university, as it should be.
Where these colleges and search firms miss the mark, however, is finding viable candidates from diverse populations. Need proof of this? Take a look at these stats:
- The breakdown of racial representation at U.S. colleges according to the National Center for Education Statistics paints a bleak picture. There are 1 million white faculty members, less than 100,000 black faculty members, 86,000 Asian faculty members, and less than 60,000 Hispanic faculty members at institutions of higher education in America.
- That same report finds that just 12 percent of full-time faculty members at U.S. colleges are minorities and only one-third of full-time professors are women.
- In fields like mathematics, physics and computer science, minorities represent barely 2 percent of total faculty.
Furthermore, the lack of diversity in college faculty is not merely because all the professors are white and of European descent (though that number is high). A recent report from Mother Jones found that:
At some schools, like Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and Princeton, there are more foreign teachers than Hispanic and black teachers combined.
So we are hiring diverse faculty members on a global stage, but not a national one. There are an estimated 41.7 Black Americans, and an estimated 54 million Hispanic ones, according to the 2010 U.S. Census numbers. That comes out to about 13.2 percent and 17 percent of the total U.S. population, respectively. To put this in perspective, there are student protests going on at Michigan public universities, demanding that 10 percent of faculty members be African American. When you take urban areas like Detroit (where 84.3 percent of the population is Black) into account, asking for 10 percent is a drop in the bucket – yet students are rallying to get the support to make it happen.
When you look at numbers like this, it’s tough to get all warm and fuzzy inside about diverse faculty at U.S. colleges and universities. Are schools even serious about hiring diverse individuals? Or is all this talk of having various populations just a horse and pony show?
I’ve written before about how truly instrumental a diverse faculty is to creating a diverse student population. It takes focus and hard work, though. That starts with the decision-makers and search committees on college campuses.
So what can universities do to take the ideology of diverse faculty and make it a reality?
Anyone who has worked on a college campus knows that it takes a lot of money to make things happen. It takes money to conduct research, to run departments, to have the right resources in the classroom, and to do anything, really. The same is true of developing a truly diverse faculty body. Instead of throwing money at outside hiring firms, some universities like Vanderbilt University are giving it to their departments. Financial incentives make it more attractive for departments to look for diverse faculty members to fill positions. Adding a financial component makes hiring diverse faculty members actionable. Is this the best way to attract diverse candidates? Probably not. But it is certainly effective.
Vanderbilt isn’t the only university throwing money at this problem either. Brown University, for example, has announced that it is dedicating $100 million to look into diversity and race issues on its campus in the next decade. The faculty at the Providence campus is overwhelmingly white and male.
Targeting with Purpose
The University of Virginia approaches diverse faculty hiring from a few angles. The first is by establishing associate deans assigned to diversity within schools and programs. It is quite literally the job of these decision makers to recruit and hire diverse employees for the university. UVA also requires any members of faculty search committees to attend diversity training sessions. There are other universities like Westchester and Harvard that have established similar procedures that empower school employees to expand and maintain diversity in the ranks. A college should never assume that every hiring manager understands what is expected in the way of diversity; it must be expressly outlined and then decision makers must be trained.
Lewis & Clark College in Oregon planned a diversity forum after a Rwandan student reported being assaulted because of his skin color. The school’s president Barry Glasner has also said an action plan is being put in place to improve diversity in faculty and students, as well as race relations at the school.
The University of Connecticut hired a Chief Diversity Officer who works towards improving the diversity of the student population AND of faculty and staff. UConn’s president Susan Herbst has said publicly that she was disappointed in the lack of diverse faculty members when she first arrived on campus four years ago and that UConn is severely lacking in an area where it really should shine. The trend of hiring Chief Diversity Officers is a positive one, as long as these executives are really empowered to make changes.
It is not enough for a college or university to be located in a diverse area; these schools must also aggressively recruit their target population, within and outside the community. This includes students, of course, and long before they are filling out college applications. When it comes to faculty, universities should have a targeted message for candidates who are minorities. This should include the reasons why that particular school is a good fit for minority faculty members – and if that school is still working to balance its diversity, that should be mentioned. If a college or university is located in a multi-cultural or urban area, that should be part of the pitch. If not, colleges should find other ways to make themselves attractive to minority candidates.
Mentoring to Tenure
After the initial hire, minorities should be encouraged to stay on campus through tenure goals. Minorities need mentorship to make this happen though, and colleges need to have minority and women tenure-track programs. By immediately letting those goals be known to the new minority hires, there is a higher chance for retention and for those diverse faculty members to end up mentoring some new hires of their own.
In the end, more minorities on college faculty only serves the benefit of everyone. It gives minority students realistic role models and gives non-minority students the chance to work with professors who may not look like them. Even the colleges themselves benefit from the added life experiences these minority faculty members bring to the table. In order to tap into the potential of a truly diverse, truly experience-rich college experience, we need to pay just as much attention to the variety in our faculty as we do to our students.
Overall, it’s becoming clear to just about everyone how important it is to prepare our workforce for the diversity of our country, and to support ALL Americans in becoming prepared for the ever-increasing demands of the workforce. It’s time to make some changes to our colleges and universities, and turn them into training hubs that benefit everyone. Once we figure out how to serve our population, we can see the kind of prosperity that even this wealthy country has never seen before.