By Dr. Cynthia Silvia, DHA
Faculty Member, School of Business
As we drive diversity and equity in new student enrollment, we must first recognize the factors that lead to racial, socioeconomic, and gender gaps in student outcomes. Despite past efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in recruiting new students to higher education, demographic disparities still exist. During the past 50 years, ethnic and racial inequalities for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians compared to whites in attaining a bachelor’s degree have increased from 9% to 20% for Hispanics and from 6% to 13% for Blacks.
Years of focusing on inequalities and completion rates have resulted in disproportionate practices that impact students of color; those with emotional, behavioral, and cognitive disabilities; and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ). These students are removed from school, resulting in lost learning opportunities due to being suspended or expelled as a result of exclusionary discipline practices.
These results impact students, their families, schools, and local communities, and as a result, these students become alienated from school and their teachers. Students often become part of the criminal justice system, resulting in being placed at risk and further resulting in a cost to the community. These students are not likely to return to school or graduate and become productive members of society. These situations often result in racial, socioeconomic and gender gaps in student outcomes.
Institutional leaders must carefully examine and adjust policies and practices to make sweeping, targeted reform that promotes equal opportunity for these students.
Creating Diversity in the Higher Education Student Population
As educators, we must support the promotion of diversity in colleges and universities nationwide. The Obama Administration noted that increasing diversity in higher education is instrumental in improving economic and educational opportunities for students of color, helping students to improve their critical thinking and analytical skills, and preparing students to succeed in a diverse and interconnected world.
According to a 2016 U.S. Department of Education report, higher education increases students’ upward mobility by 2.5%, with the unemployment rates for college graduates running at roughly half of the national average. Hispanic adults who completed their high school diploma earned an average annual salary of $30,329, whereas those who completed a four-year degree earned $58,493.
African American adults earned an average annual salary of $28,439 after completing their high school diploma, compared to those who completed a four-year degree, who earn an average of $59,027. These variations in earnings can significantly impact a student’s life.
Gaps in Earnings Are a Key Factor in Diminishing Social Mobility
Students who experience disparities before completing their high school diploma often experience gaps while pursuing college opportunities. Gaps in earnings often diminish social mobility, especially for people of color who share the same experience as those people with low incomes and first-generation college students.
One of the factors that contribute to this gap is school segregation. These gaps result in stress factors that impact student success. Students of color often experience inequities regarding advanced coursework in high school and access to counselors who help prepare students for enrolling in higher education.
Factors That Influence Educational Outcomes
Disparities in educational opportunities at the college level are often impacted by disparities in outcomes in students of color. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 80% of students of color are affected by racial and ethnic disparities, family income, and his or her level of parental education. Other factors that negatively influence learning are food and housing insecurity, exposure to violence, unsafe neighborhoods, and adverse childhood experiences.
Increasing Enrollment Through Engagement
Diversity and inclusion are essential factors in providing increased access to learning opportunities for students of color. Many challenges remain that demand the attention of policymakers and institutions of higher learning. Increased enrollment requires the addition of new strategies such as:
- Using social media to create blogs where students can tell their stories
- Using storytelling as a tool to create brand awareness
- Using search engine optimization (SEO) to increase the school’s visibility
- Increasing attention to student enrollments to ensure equitable access
- Making campuses feel inclusive and safe by promoting the exchange of perspectives and values from students of different ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds
- Expanding learning environments through the use of apps, mobile devices and new technologies
- Providing mentorship programs
- Encouraging the forming of student organizations
- Hosting free online seminars that promote academic opportunities for students
- Forming community partnerships with local high schools and community colleges offering pre-college courses and opportunities to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree
- Establishing community partnerships
- Establishing partnerships with other institutions of higher learning
- Arranging conferences for higher learning educators to promote new strategies
A key strategy for success lies in partnering with institutions of higher learning, especially those nearby. Perhaps a conference for higher learning educators could generate ideas and shared strategies for higher learning institutions. As President Obama stated in his acceptance speech in 2008, “Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy.”