Diversity Is Vital For Higher Education
Ever since the colonization of the United States, it has been held up as a shining example of diversity and immigration, despite a dark history of discrimination. Although America is often known as a “melting pot,” you’d never know how diverse our country is by looking at our institutions of higher learning.
The United States is more diverse than ever, according to the 2020 census. Despite this, there is an obvious lack of diversity among university faculty, higher education leadership, and the student bodies of many distinguished academic institutions. There are many systemic reasons for this issue, and it remains a persistent problem.
Diversity in higher education is something you hear about all the time, but why does it matter? Why are we still struggling to see the diversity of our country reflected in our higher education system? Here’s why diversity will be vital for the future of our colleges and universities.
Reflecting And Celebrating Our Nation’s True Diversity
When you look at the statistics in higher education, it’s easy to see that many groups are being underrepresented or excluded. Among the students leaving high school and enrolling in college in 2019, there were stark differences between racial groups, with over 89% of white students enrolling in college while only 50% of Black high school graduates enrolled .
Segregation is no longer the law of the land, but it hasn’t gone away culturally or economically. Many communities are effectively segregated, resulting in very little diversity in individual schools. Schools serving communities of color are often underfunded, leading to achievement gaps and low college enrollment for these students.
To represent and celebrate our nation’s true diversity, we must ensure that all students receive the excellent education they deserve and the option to go to college. A lack of diversity in higher education shows that we haven’t reached that point yet.
1. Bringing In A Range Of Perspectives
Both students and faculty bring their lived experience, background, and perspectives to school with them. This is important for helping students to cultivate broader minds, empathy, and tolerance for differing opinions.
A diverse teaching staff means a broader curriculum for students to experience, as well as different teaching styles, learning topics, and ways of looking at the world. Diversity within the student body provides new opportunities for young people to understand different ways of thinking and living. Without these diverse perspectives, students leave college with their view of the world affirmed, but poorly equipped to function in a diverse, global society.
2. Building Innovative Thinkers
Being exposed to different perspectives and ideas challenges people and helps them come up with more creative solutions to problems. By studying under and alongside a diverse group of people, students have more opportunities to become innovative thinkers. This is a huge asset in today’s knowledge economy and will be critical in the coming decades.
3. Providing Role Models
Many students never get the opportunity to have a teacher who has similar lived experiences to them. Students of different racial or ethnic backgrounds, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students often don’t have role models to look up to as they work toward a degree program, due to a lack of faculty diversity.
Schools need to ensure that they hire a diverse staff to inspire their entire student body. Representation matters, and role models can inspire students to dream big, pursue their dreams, and succeed.
4. Maintaining The Value Of A Degree
The world is changing and people are growing impatient with higher education’s lack of diversity. To maintain the value of a degree and attract new students each year, universities will have to commit to creating a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment. With tuition and other expenses rising, students will need to feel that their degree is providing more than just a piece of paper.
5. Creating Open-Minded, Strong Communities
U.S. politics have become increasingly divisive in the past decade and communities have become more insular. Higher education can and must play a role in creating educated, open-minded, and strong communities by ensuring that everyone has access to educational opportunities.
With ongoing crises, such as economic inequality, climate change, and racism, we need to see more solidarity, not more hate. Education plays an important role in bringing people together and building communities.
6. Promoting Economic Opportunity
It’s no secret that many kids are held back by their families’ economic situation and systemic inequalities. Young people who grow up in poverty have reduced access to the resources and educational advantages needed to break the cycle and earn more than their parents. Without access to higher education, many of these young people will be unable to pursue their preferred career paths.
Higher education is designed, in part, to prepare students for the modern job market. A lack of diversity ultimately means a lack of opportunities for the students who most need a leg up.
Ongoing Challenges To Diversity
Affirmative action, which simply refers to an institution taking deliberate steps to increase diversity within its staff and student body, has been a controversial practice . However, statistics show that institutions struggle to become more diverse and inclusive without policies mandating more diverse recruiting and admissions policies.
While the higher education system has made great strides in diversity over the last century, major gaps still persist, especially in leadership. It’s important for educational leaders to understand the importance of closing these gaps to promote the future of educational institutions and to better prepare students for their place in the world. Higher education needs to serve all, not just those who were born with the most privileges.