Consider Faculty Diversity When Applying to College

As classrooms become increasingly diverse at colleges and universities across the U.S., that change in the student body is largely not reflected within the faculty ranks. The growth of faculty diversity in higher education continues to move at a snail’s pace, experts say.

“The bottom line is that most institutions, on average, are failing at this endeavor,” says Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean of the College of Education at the University of Kentucky and co-author of a 2019 study that examined federal data on faculty diversity.

“What we found was that the needle on faculty diversity hasn’t moved over the last five years or so. That’s a problem,” Vasquez Heilig says. “So while institutions of higher education continue to say that they value diversity, they aren’t delivering results.”

[Read: Diversity in College and Why It Matters.]

He adds that higher education was initially designed for wealthy white men and took centuries to open to all minority students. That means the development and recruitment of minority faculty members has long lagged at U.S. colleges and universities.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, an overwhelming majority — 75% — of full-time faculty across the U.S. in fall 2018 were white. Asian/Pacific Islander faculty members made up 12% of full-time faculty, with representation of all other races falling in the single digits.

Defining Faculty Diversity

Diversity is a broad term, stretching across and beyond racial, ethnic and gender lines.

“Typically, the reference to faculty diversity is directed at the composition of faculty at US colleges and universities, which includes racial, ethnic, national origin identities, and gender/gender identity and other social identities among the faculty workforce,” Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, wrote in an email.

“Faculty diversity also extends more broadly to include political ideology, religion, economic background, and age,” she says.

Faculty with disabilities also fall under the diversity umbrella, though data in this area is lacking, Vasquez Heilig notes.

Why Faculty Diversity Matters

Experts say faculty diversity enhances the student experience both in and out of the classroom.

“When thinking about the benefits students receive, some of our earliest studies indicated that when universities foster diverse and inclusive environments by way of having diverse faculty, students report higher satisfaction rates with their overall experience along with developing greater familiarity with cultural awareness and promoting racial understanding,” Donathan Brown, assistant provost and assistant vice president for faculty diversity and recruitment at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, wrote in an email.

Diverse faculty members can offer perspectives and personal experiences that those in the majority may not have to share, says Ansley Abraham, director of the State Doctoral Scholars Program at the nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board based in Atlanta.

“In providing our students with a breadth of ideas, you have to have all those perspectives come to the table, and to share their experiences and information based on those different perspectives. That expands a student’s learning and their ideas,” Abraham says.

Those perspectives, he says, may help shape student views on what issues matter and the type of academic research in which to engage. The presence of diverse faculty members may also provide students with a sense of inclusion and community.

[Read: How Politics, Religion and Race Influence Campus Culture.]

Experts suggest that while faculty diversity has always been important, it looms especially large now in the wake of nationwide protests in 2020 condemning a string of violent deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police. As these protests spread, students at multiple campuses nationwide spoke up about their own experiences with racism and discrimination and demanded action from their colleges. A common theme in these demands was the recruitment and hiring of more diverse faculty.

“Students are insisting that our institutions better reflect our society, which extends beyond the borders of this country, and extends beyond gender and race,” Granberry Russell says. “Students are demanding that curriculum reflects their experiences, and that they be better prepared to compete globally.”

Many colleges responded to the racial turmoil of 2020 by releasing statements affirming their support for diverse students on campus and condemning the killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans. But those words often rang hollow, some experts say.

“I think we’re in a moment where people want to see results instead of words,” Vasquez Heilig says.

How to Identify Colleges With Diverse Faculty

There’s no one-stop shop for identifying colleges with faculty diversity. Vasquez Heilig notes that he and fellow academic researchers had to comb through years of federal government data in order to identify the sluggish growth in faculty diversity.

The resources to identify colleges with diverse faculty are lacking, and how this information is presented may vary by school.

“Some institutions have publicly viewable dashboards that allow you to gain a better understanding, while others do not,” Brown says.

He suggests visiting specific pages within a college’s website, such as institutional research, diversity and inclusion, and the “about us” section. If those pages yield little information, he advises prospective students to reach out to admissions offices with any questions.

[Read: Consider a College With a Focus on Minority Students.]

Granberry Russell says students may also want to seek out resources available in diversity and inclusion offices.

“Search for whether the institution has a dedicated office that leads campus diversity efforts, that may also have a chief diversity officer. Increasingly, chief diversity officers are now serving in roles that include responsibility for faculty diversity,” she says.

Abraham encourages students to visit the faculty webpages for the colleges that interest them. He notes that it is common for departmental pages to include photos of faculty members alongside their academic accomplishments and research.

Taking the long view, Abraham also encourages students to consider their own role in future faculty diversity efforts.

“We have to get more students coming through the system targeting graduate school as an option once they finish their initial four years,” he says. “We have to do a better job of convincing students of color that academe is an important career path.”

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