5 trends in college diversity to look for in 2016

Student protests. Strikes by football teams. High-profile officials resigning. In 2015, equality and fair representation on college campuses saw the media spotlight and people across the nation took note. The past year set the foundation for potentially big strides in diversity, inclusion and equality on college campuses in 2016 – but only if advocates take advantage of the spotlight for good.

Take a look at five ways I think diversity can, and will, improve on college campuses in 2016:

More student input.

2015 was a pivotal year of college students being vocal about their treatment, and that of their peers, by university administration. An interesting (yet obvious) lesson emerged: Colleges that do not take the complaints of their students seriously will face the consequences.

Case in point: The University of Oklahoma versus the University of Missouri. At Oklahoma, when students publicly called out a fellow student for chanting racial slurs in an online video that went viral, the university’s president acted quickly to expel the student and speak out publicly against what the video portrayed. At the University of Missouri, however, there were months of unrest after racial slurs were allegedly used by some white students, that launched other accusations of university discrimination. It took student protests, hunger strikes, and a threatened strike by the football team before some peace among students was reached. As a result, two administrators (including university president Tim Wolfe) resigned.

Colleges have to find the balance between acting too quickly and simply appearing to not care. The University of Missouri was guilty of the latter. Expect student complaints regarding equality on campus and other student-treatment issues to be taken more seriously in 2016 and for diversity to improve as a result.

Broader definition of diversity.

Cultivating diversity on college campuses is not just about race and ethnicity. It encompasses gender, age and life stage. Colleges will continue to increase the recruitment of first-generation, LGBTQ+, non-traditional, out-of-state, and international students to create a more diverse atmosphere. This will include a more conscious effort on the part of admitting officials but will also require more targeted recruitment.

Chief Diversity Officers.

The University of Connecticut and Ithaca College made headlines in 2015 when they added a new position to their executive suite: Chief Diversity Officer. While universities have long had diversity task forces and even full-time staff members who work to improve diversity on campus, the move to add such a prominent position is promising.

As more colleges follow suit, the position needs to be more than a figurehead. An editorial for UConn’s The Daily Campus sums it up by saying:

“The hope is that these recommendations hit their mark and help increase diversity in both the student body and faculty. The effort the administration is employing is seen and appreciated. The expectation now is that these efforts are fruitful, and bring meaningful change.”

Earlier recruitment.

Colleges are realizing that if minorities, first-generation students, and other pupils who are considered at-risk are target demographics for their upcoming graduating classes, then recruitment needs to start early. Think middle school, or even earlier. Waiting until junior or senior year of high school presents the risk that the students have already ruled out the possibility of college. Guiding younger students through what it takes to get into college, from grade expectations to community service requirements, ensures that more of the students who give up on college before they have even tried get a real shot at going, and graduating.

Expect more colleges to join the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success which replaces the Common Application with a portfolio process for college acceptance that starts in 9th grade.

Data for retention.

Getting a diverse group of students on campus is just the first step in maintaining a multi-faceted population. Retention, especially among at-risk groups, is a big problem for universities. Many are turning to technology to anticipate problems and reach out to students at risk for dropping out long before they do. Virginia Commonwealth University is one example of a school reaching out to a tech consulting firm to learn more about its students and help struggling students before they withdraw.

Data is used for so many aspects of college life – expect to see more schools tapping it to recruit and maintain diverse student bodies.


What trends are hoping to see in college diversity in 2016?

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