Reports Show US Colleges Unprepared for Diversity Surge

A study from University of Pennsylvania professor Katherine Milkman and her colleagues sent identical emails to 6,500 professors at 259 US higher ed institutions requesting research opportunities before the fictitious correspondent applied to doctoral programs.  The names on the emails were gender and racially specific, and requests made by gender and racial minorities were ignored at higher rates than requests made by white males, particularly at private institutions.

The US Census reported that 2.9 million African-Americans, 2.5 million Hispanic, and 12.7 million Caucasian student were enrolled in college in 2009.  In the same year, 11.6 million female and 8.7 male students were enrolled.  In number, women are the majority, but socially they remain the minority as a result of continued gender bias, especially in the science, engineering, technology and math fields (STEM).

Aaron Thompson, sociology professor at Eastern Kentucky University says that diversity in education promotes self-awareness, social development and working with others from culturally different backgrounds.

However, minorities often do not have the same educational opportunities as the majority.  The reason minorities tend to be lower in number in the STEM fields is that they attend schools that do not encourage them to to progress in the sciences, according to The New York Times.

As a public show of embracing equality, 37 higher education associations took out a full-page ad in the New York Times touting their support of and interest in campus diversity.

“Our nation’s higher education institutions … stand committed to furthering the goals of equal opportunity and diversity in education. … We remain dedicated to the mission of discovering and disseminating knowledge, including the knowledge gained through direct experiences with diverse colleagues — a resource for achieving a stronger democracy and nation.”

Nonetheless, say Gene A. Budig, past president of three major universities, and Alan Heaps, former vice president of the College Board in New York City, writing for The Grand Island Independent, the study proves that in the areas of diversity and equality, colleges and universities need substantive reform.

In Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, former president of Bucknell University and  Washington & Jefferson College, shares some of his opinions concerning diversity.  Mitchell says that if American colleges and universities expect to remain relevant in the 21st century, they need to begin to look more like the rest of America.  He believes that many colleges are afraid to implement policies that might very well, down the line, become subject to court challenge.

Mitchell adds that diversity costs money, and colleges/universities could rightfully say that there is no money available for this initiative, with net tuition revenue steady or on the decline.  Mitchell’s advice includes the following:

• America must maintain a broad,decentralized higher education system based on access and choice.

• The definition of diversity needs to become much broader.

• Government efforts need to stop being cumbersome “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

• Colleges need to use more creative and focused ways to build diversity, not just financial aid.

• Colleges must first do no harm when choosing how best to prepare a workforce.

“The question is whether we see opportunity not by imposing bureaucratic solutions, abandoning what works or choosing sides. In the end, America must ask how it can bring together the people, programs, strategies and protocol to “disrupt” prudently to better educate a diverse and unpredictable world.”

Researchers at the University of Houston asked students what they will need in the future, coming up with three common themes:

• A balance of power shifting away from institutions and toward students.

• A blending of all parts of a student’s life – living, learning, working, playing, connecting, and participating – making the singling out of one aspect difficult.

• Information and communication technologies becoming both the problem and the solution, creating challenges and possibilities in terms of student needs.

The Graduate Program in Foresight at the UH College of Technology, using a grant from the Lumina Foundation, has taken the initiative by setting Goal 2025.  The goal calls for “increasing the proportion of Americans with degrees, high-quality certificates, and other credentials to 60%, rather than the current 38.7%,  by 2025″.