Diversity in Colleges: Statistics, History, and Resources
Promoting diversity is important; however, diversity is sometimes used as a buzzword in a way that reduces that importance. Diversity is the inclusion of individuals from a wide range of groups based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, income level, culture, and other characteristics, and making it truly meaningful means developing a deeper understanding of and appreciation for individuals who are members of these groups and their differences. Doing this can lead to a more inclusive perspective on everyday life, which can ultimately generate better ideas that move society forward.
Colleges and universities can be ground zero for this deeper, more concrete approach to understanding diversity. Promoting diversity in colleges can make discussing inclusive ideas easier for students and provide them with a more well-rounded outlook after they graduate, resulting in personal and professional benefits.
While colleges and universities have made great efforts to promote diversity on a more meaningful level, there is still a way to go before the potential for on-campus diversity can be fully realized.
Why diversity in colleges matters
Creating a diverse, inclusive atmosphere on campus is an important step in growing and expanding knowledge among a school’s student body. That knowledge is acquired by adding the understanding of others’ experiences — including those from underrepresented populations — to a person’s own experiences.
Diversity in colleges may introduce certain segments of the student body to individuals from ethnic, cultural, sexual identity, and economic backgrounds that they may have had little to no interaction with prior to enrollment. The experience of interacting with individuals from these groups enables students to broaden their perspective and worldview, which can help them gain a deeper, more nuanced understanding of a wide range of subjects.
Gaining this deeper understanding can have a profound impact on a student’s postgraduate life. It may lead them to approach key societal issues such as equality and systemic racism in a more thoughtful way, one that is mindful of other people’s experiences. It can also have a strong influence on a student’s professional life, as they can apply the worldview developed from a diverse college experience to their careers.
As a result, college graduates who have developed a true appreciation for diversity can bring that into their workplace, resulting in numerous benefits for them and their employers, including:
A college’s diversity goals often start with a diverse faculty and staff, enabling the school to lead by example. A diverse faculty and staff can give students a real-world example of how diversity and inclusion can create a harmonious and beneficial environment built upon a foundation of different worldviews.
Diversity in colleges by the numbers
While promoting diversity in colleges is important, it remains an elusive concept. Some progress has occurred, however: The college enrollment rates for students of color have increased between 2000 and 2019.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the college enrollment rates of 18- to 24-year-olds, by race/ethnicity, in 2019 were:
● Black: 37%, up from 31% in 2000
● Hispanic: 36%, up from 22% in 2000
● American Indian/Alaska Native: 24%, up from 16% in 2000
Enrollment rates are significantly higher for women than men. For example, the enrollment rate for Black and Hispanic women in 2019 was 40%, compared to 34% and 33%, respectively, for Black and Hispanic men.
Beyond enrollment rates, “Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education,” a report from the American Council on Education (ACE), demonstrates dramatic discrepancies in other areas among the Black community.
● Black individuals have “some of the lowest persistence rates, highest undergraduate dropout rates, highest borrowing rates, and largest debt burdens of any group.”
● The challenges Black people face regarding higher education correlate to systemic and structural hurdles that can minimize or eliminate opportunities for Black students.
● Black students owed an average of $22,303 in student loans, compared with the overall student average of $18,501.
Diversity varies, of course, across types of colleges and universities. From a student perspective, community colleges tend to be relatively diverse environments. The American Association of Community Colleges reports the following statistics about community college students:
● Community college students who are people of color: 54%
● Community college students who are part of the first generation in their family to attend college: 29%
● Hispanic college undergraduates who are enrolled in community college: 52%
● Black college undergraduates who are enrolled in community college: 42%
However, colleges across the board struggle with demonstrating diversity within their own ranks. Data from the ACE report includes the following percentages:
● Full-time faculty who are white: 73.2%
● Collegiate presidents who are white and male: 58.1%
● Collegiate services and maintenance staff who are people of color: 42.2%
● Collegiate safety personnel who are people of color: 33.3%
A closer look at the numbers
The following links provide further information on what on-campus diversity looks like.
The push for greater diversity in colleges is an ongoing process, but it has made big strides since the dawn of the 20th century. One of the main reasons for this stems from the way diversity was defined over a century ago.
In 1900, diversity in higher education was achieved through segregation-based strategies. This mindset resulted in the proliferation of and support for colleges that exclusively catered to population groups based on one of several metrics, including:
Religion-focused universities reached out to specific immigrant populations. For instance, Lutheran colleges tended to enroll children of families who emigrated from Scandinavia or Germany.
On the other end of the spectrum, some prestigious universities designed tactics to help them control on-campus diversity. One of these tactics was to pepper the enrollment process with questions or processes designed to make students inadvertently reveal information about their race, religion or ethnicity, such as letters of recommendation from their clergy.
The shift to emphasizing diversity within a campus instead of segregated colleges began slightly before World War II, thanks to movements such as the one created by the NAACP to desegregate Southern colleges and universities. These movements, coupled with the robust growth of collegiate options in the postwar era, led to more possibilities for diverse campus experiences.
While more campuses meant greater opportunities for diversity in colleges on paper, campuses still lagged in promoting diversity until the civil rights movement began to gain influence, and universities started creating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives such as affirmative action policies. While various forms of legislation have shaped and altered these policies over the years, the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion can still be weighed in a college’s student acceptance decisions.
As higher education evolves in the 21st century, so do the practices of promoting diversity. As online college opportunities continue to grow, colleges and universities are seeking ways to promote diversity within an online setting. Even though the classroom and learning environment are virtual, colleges have many options for instituting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in a remote space. These can include:
● Demonstrating diversity in promotional materials
● Shaping requirements to be mindful of those lacking opportunities for prerequisites
● Offering inclusive skill-building opportunities
● Supporting efforts for affordable high-speed broadband across the country
Dive into history
The history of efforts to increase diversity in colleges is deep and complex. The following links can provide you with further insights.
Creating diversity on college campuses takes action. If you are a student who cares about building a diverse, inclusive collegiate experience, you should not sit by and wait for diversity to occur. This is especially important today, as concepts pertaining to the meaning of diversity and inclusiveness — and ways to embrace them — are in flux.
To begin, you need to take a step back and break down diversity as a whole into separate components, such as race and ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Also important is understanding that true diversity is not just the presence of people from various backgrounds on campus but the acceptance and appreciation of the different life experiences of all people.
On campus, the issues confronting individuals in each group are unique. For example, students belonging to racial and ethnic minorities may be concerned about representation in student government or equal opportunities for internships, projects, and scholarships. Women may find campus safety an increasingly significant area of concern. And the availability of inclusive housing and mental health support may be top of mind for members of the LGTBQ+ community.
Breaking down diversity in this manner can allow you to fully consider the issues of importance to students in each group and create better, more efficient strategies to move on-campus diversity and inclusion forward.
For instance, you can utilize resources that provide information on the current trends and movements that matter most to individuals in a specific group and create events that pertain to these issues. You can also take a deep dive into different groups’ cultures and celebrate their heritage and history in a way that honors them and avoids stereotyping.
Resources for students
To create effective diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on campus, you need materials to help you build comprehensive strategies that can make a substantial difference. The following links can offer you the materials you need to develop these strategies.
Diversity in colleges has come a long way since the beginning of the 20th century. Yet, statistically speaking, there is still a long way to go. From helping marginalized groups find success in higher education to creating a more diverse, inclusive administrative atmosphere, colleges have many opportunities to push diversity forward, both in physical and virtual environments. For college students filled with a desire to make the world a more inclusive place, the time to start this process is now.