Last month's American Council on Education conference in Washington, D.C., carried the theme of "The Access Imperative," and higher ed leaders heard a variety of perspectives on how they could address one of the most pressing issues of our time.
During his opening plenary speech, Freeman Hrabowski, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County, noted that while great strides in access have been made over the years, there are still challenges that are "as great, if not greater, particularly for poor people of all races."
It was fitting, then, that the conference also saw the inaugural meeting of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE). Diversity officers are still a new title on many campus rosters, and indeed, many have slightly different functions or areas of focus. A two-year school in the Midwest, for example, has different needs than a four-year school in the South. NADOHE was formed out of a desire to establish professional standards to guide this incongruent group. After three years of planning and organizing, NADOHE held its first formal sessions to begin laying the groundwork for engaging member institutions in the important work of improving diversity. The group's stated goal is to establish a global network of senior and chief diversity officers, multicultural experts, and others who are interested in policy-oriented issues related to institutional transformation that leads to a more inclusive environment.
Diversity enhances the educational experience for students of all persuasions, while reflecting, for lack of a better term, the real world.
But while most of the attention is, rightly, focused on student diversity, colleges and universities need to remember that there are two sides to the coin. They need to devote as much effort to hiring a diverse staff and faculty as they do to attracting a diverse student population. I've heard from a number of admissions counselors over the years that many higher ed institutions fail to deliver the campus environment implied while recruiting minorities. When those students arrive on campus, they often don't find authority figures or role models with whom they can identify.
Ginger Miller, an admissions consultant with Howard Greene and Associates, once told me that a key ingredient to a successful student career is the comfort level of being with people who understand you. Miller, who is Chinese-American, notes that many college students are away from home and on their own for the first time. "When you are in an unfamiliar environment, you feel uneasy, and you get homesick. That's true of all minority groups. When they feel homesick and hunger for, say, a certain food that they grew up with, they can go to a group of their own people and the others will identify with that and instantly understand what they mean. But a mixed group won't know what they are talking about. It's as simple as that. There are certain times of the year or seasons that are shared with other people of your cultural group."
Fortunately, there are enouraging signs that this picture may be changing. Minority faculty numbers have increased by 50 percent overall in the last decade, although that growth comes largely from the Asian and Hispanic communities. But more can and should be done, and we at University Business welcome NADOHE's efforts.
Write to Tim Goral at firstname.lastname@example.org.