Faculty Diversity Plays a Central Role in College Completion
Yet Despite an Increasingly Diverse Student Population, Colleges Aren’t Meeting the Moment
The Education Trust releases new report on faculty diversity and student success
WASHINGTON – The U.S. population is more diverse than ever, but college and university faculty are still overwhelmingly White, a new report from The Education Trust notes. The report “Faculty Diversity and Student Success Go Hand in Hand, So Why are University Faculties So White?” examines faculty representation, hiring, and tenure equity at universities over time and shows that little to no progress has been made toward increasing faculty diversity in American higher education, despite loud calls for greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) from students in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and countless pledges by college and university leaders to boost diversity and create more welcoming campus climates. According to Ed Trust’s research, all students benefit from having diverse faculty. Black and Latino students are going to college in greater numbers and they are more likely to graduate when they have faculty members who look like them and can serve as positive mentors and role models. White students who interact with diverse faculty are more likely to develop deeper cross-cultural and critical-thinking skills and greater levels of empathy, which are essential for success in today’s multicultural and multiracial world.
“As an organization committed to advocating for the academic success of students of color, we want to be intentional about identifying and understanding the systemic barriers that are in place so that we can help eliminate them, said Gabriel Montague, a higher education research analyst at The Education Trust and a coauthor of the report.
“We recognize that increasing faculty diversity is one piece of a complex college completion puzzle; however, the combined academic and social benefits for all students along with the increased opportunities for faculty of color to advance in their careers are a set of outcomes we need to pursue with the help of university, state-level, and federal-level leaders and advocates. University leadership must prioritize faculty diversity because they owe it to all students to provide a college experience that is enriching academically and culturally and they owe it to faculty to provide equitable opportunities for growth and stability in their careers, so they can, increase their capacity to support the students.”
Unfortunately, Black and Latino faculty are severely underrepresented among the ranks of tenured and tenure-track professors. When Ed Trust researchers compared the racial and ethnic composition of an institution’s faculty against that of its student body and graded them, they found that more than half (57%) of the institutions had failing grades for Black faculty diversity, while over three-quarters (79%) had F grades for Latino faculty diversity.
Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., national director of education and research at the NAACP and a professor of counseling psychology at Howard University calls this report,
“a much-needed wake-up call to the higher education community. The data is clear. Students of color succeed when they see instructors who look like them. But at our nation’s most prominent colleges and universities, faculty of color are sorely lacking. This must change. As an HBCU faculty member who prepares mostly African American Ph.D. students for careers in academia, I know firsthand how the best
Black talent is overlooked by historically White institutions. This is unacceptable, and I’m glad Ed Trust is not only highlighting this problem but offering important solutions. It’s time for colleges and universities to take concrete steps to diversify their faculty. Only then will we achieve true equity in higher education.”
At a time when affirmative action is being challenged, anti-critical race theory (CRT) campaigns are gaining traction, and racial divisions are driving political and social discourse, it is vital to have inclusive education spaces and opportunities for students to encounter and engage with different viewpoints. Faculty diversity is central to this and plays a key role in student success and completion, this report notes. Staff and non-tenure-track professionals play a significant role in producing positive student outcomes, but institutional, state, and federal leaders can increase student success by ensuring that people of color are adequately represented among faculty.
Allen Linton, senior director of equity, diversity, and inclusion at Associated Colleges of the Midwest, (ACS) also endorsed the report’s findings. He notes that, “This pivotal Ed Trust report couldn’t come at a better time. Faculty diversity is crucial because you bring in a range of perspectives, research, and life experiences to the students of an institution but it’s also fortunate for the faculty themselves to be in community with other faculty from diverse backgrounds that can help them succeed and advance the community writ large. Making our institutions more welcoming and reflective of the nation requires everyone to do more work, put forth an effort; it won’t happen by accident. We need to be intentional, thoughtful, and committed to ensuring equitable, diverse, and inclusive campus environments.”
While few policies at the state and federal levels directly address faculty diversity, there are several ways that higher education leaders can not only boost faculty diversity but use it to improve college completion.
Baseline recommendations from the report on faculty diversity and student success include:
- Increasing federal funding for programs that support undergraduate and graduate research and the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES)
- Ensuring that campus priorities are aligned with faculty diversity initiatives
- Using executive action to support diversity and inclusion efforts
- Rescinding state bans on affirmative action
- And more