Benefits of background variety and ethnic diversity in college life and on campus

Diversity quilt

Diversity quilt

Studies have shown that academic and campus life is greatly improved in an environment of ethnic diversity among a variety of student backgrounds in the student body as well as the faculty. When all groups are studying and working together, it helps young people gain confidence, become more worldly and prepare for a career.

Minority student enrollment increasing

After dipping in 2006, college enrollment has risen by 3.2 million. Also since 2006, college student body has become more diverse. Although white student enrollment fell from 67 percent to 58 percent, those nine percentage points were made up by an increase in Hispanic students, according to Derek Thompson, business editor of The Atlantic, in “Is This the End of the College Boom?” on Here & Now, September 5, 2013.

Thompson said: “The younger generation is the … most diverse generation in American history. There are more Hispanics in the United States than there have ever been. And those immigration numbers we think could actually increase if the economy gets better… So colleges are getting more diverse, and that, I think, is a good story as well.”

Why is diversity on college campuses important?

In the October 9, 2012, “10 Reasons Why We Need Diversity on College Campuses,” Sophia Kerby at the Center for American Progress lists a few reasons:

• Higher education institutions need to reflect the increasing diversity of the United States.

• Disparities still prevalent in higher education need to change.

• Diversity in the workforce fosters innovation and competitiveness in business.

• Learning with people from a variety of backgrounds encourages higher levels of academic achievement and the improvement of near- and long-term intergroup relations.

Jeremy S. Hyman and Lynn F. Jacobs explain the benefits of diversity in “Why Does Diversity Matter at College Anyway?” August 12, 2009 in U.S. News and World Reports:

• Diversity expands students’ worldliness, increases social development, and prepares students for careers in the global society.

• Diversity promotes creative thinking, enhances self-awareness, and liberates students from the tunnel vision of an ethnocentric and egocentric viewpoint.

Faculty diversity needs improvement

Not only is diversity among the student body important, but so is faculty diversity. While nearly 30 percent of undergraduate students in the U.S. are minorities, only 12 percent of full-time faculty are minorities, and only 9 percent of full-time professors are people of color. Similarly, half of undergraduate students are women, but one-third of full-time professors are women, according to the study “Faculty Recruitment in Higher Education: Research Findings on Diversity and Affirmative Action,” by Debra Humphreys, AAC&U, for the Ford Foundation Campus Diversity Initiative. 

Dr. Matthew Lynch wrote in “Diversity in College Faculty Just as Important as Student Body” in Issues in Higher Education, April 24, 2013: “Faculty positions are extremely competitive. Colleges and universities often value professors that have publishing ability, or a strong past of publication, over actual teaching methods.…Sometimes sex and race are simply not part of the hiring equation… It is more difficult for higher education decision makers to gauge the benefit of a person’s background or life experience on the students.”

Colleges improve faculty diversity

Some colleges are taking steps to improve diversity on campus. For example, the University of California has instituted a task force to conduct a comprehensive program review of faculty diversity efforts at each UC campus. The review will include an in-depth analysis of faculty demographic data, campus site visits, and a review of existing reports and studies of gender equity and faculty diversity at UC and other universities.

The University of Washington on its three campuses has changed their faculty code so that it now focuses not only on faculty background, but also on their work, which can be performed by any faculty member regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. Luis R. Fraga, the associate vice provost for faculty advancement, meets regularly with deans, department chairs, and other academic leaders to disseminate best practices for conducting inclusive searches and fostering collegial environments.

How diverse is your campus?

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