Top 3 Little-Considered Issues Related to Student Diversity

Schools and colleges tout the buzz word “diversity” when talking about their ideal student populations, but ideals and reality do not always add up. Diversity is more than filling a quota, or having a certain number of students from an under-represented minority group in your classroom.

There are many issues to address that will help improve our education system in a manner that celebrates the diversity in this country. Here are three issues related to diversity that you might not even have thought about.

  1. Native Americans are falling through the cracks when it comes to education. Obama wants to dedicate $1 billion to changing this.

Young people in Indian Country are some of the most at-risk in the United States. Many grow up in communities suffering from poverty, unemployment and substance abuse. More than one-fifth of Native Americans over 25 years of age never earned a high school diploma. Of those who attend college, only 39 percent earn a bachelor’s degree within six years.

Administrative officials said the President was inspired to increase funds to better serve this population partially as a result of last year’s visit to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. He and the First Lady traveled to North Dakota and met with young people who shared how drugs, violence and poverty impacted their lives.

President Obama’s budget request includes $1 billion for American Indian schools next year, with millions of those dollars dedicated to restoring crumbling buildings and connecting classrooms via broadband Internet.

The federal government reports that around one-third of Bureau of Indian Education schools were in poor condition last year. This has forced students to learn in classrooms that fail to meet health and safety standards.

I can only imagine the impact $1 billion would make on the Native American community, one that is in such dire need of resources. Students do not deserve to have roofs caving in on them — they deserve to attend school and get an education in dramatically better conditions.

  1. There is a gender gap in colleges now—and the imbalance works against men.

If you have been following education hot button issues for any length of time, you’ve likely read about the nationwide push to better encourage girls in areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The thought is that by showing young women that these topics are just as appropriate for them as their male peers, more women will find lasting careers in these traditionally male-dominated fields.

I’m all for more women in the STEM workplace but with all this focus in one area, are educators neglecting an even larger gender gap issue?

Nationally, over 57 percent of college attendees are female when public and private school stats are combined. Females have been consistently edging ahead of their male classmates since the late 1970s when the percentages flip-flopped. Aside from all-female schools, there are others that have marked disproportionate numbers. Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena has nearly 96 percent females in attendance, and the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis has over 93 percent.

There are a few reasons why more young women than men are choosing a college education. The first is that there are more trades that do not require a college degree that appeal to men. The second is that economically speaking, women earn a better living with a college degree than without one in comparison to men. Though there is still a wage gap (in 2012, women earned just 80.9 percent of the salaries of their male counterparts), women see the value their earning potential can gain from achieving a college diploma.

I hear people asking this question all the time: What are K-12 educators doing wrong when it comes to preparing young women for STEM careers? It’s a valid one.

But based on the statistics I’ve listed here, shouldn’t we also be asking this question: What are K-12 educators doing when it comes to preparing young men for a college education?

It all comes down to the weight we assign to the worth of a college education. If a diploma is simply a way to earn more money over a lifetime, then perhaps men are doing the intelligent thing by launching into the workforce early and without student loan debt. That logic is flawed, however, when taking into account the fact that blue-collar jobs are declining in favor of white-collar ones. A young man making a lifelong career decision today simply cannot predict what educational demands will be placed on his field in another 10, 20 or 30 years.

Money aside, there are other pitfalls in a disproportionate number of men going to college. Statistics show that marriages where the couples have differing education levels more often end in divorce than couples with the same educational achievements. And even before divorce is an option, women who set college educational goals may not want to settle for men with less motivation – at least when it comes to academics. If this trend continues, social dynamics may be impacted.

  1. Even as student bodies are becoming more diverse, college faculty remains homogenous.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, just 16 percent of full-time professors at post-secondary institutions are minorities. That means that 84 percent of those in full-time professorships are white. 60 percent are men and 25 percent are white women.

Those numbers decrease slightly with faculty. 79 percent of the “instructional faculty” within this nation’s colleges and universities are white and just six percent are black.

Considering the hiring boom that many schools have experienced since the start of the 1990’s, it’s mildly surprising that not many minorities were included in that growth.

The Condition of Education: Characteristics of Post-secondary Faculty” shows that there was a 42 percent increase in the number of instructional faculty hired from 1991-2011. During that 20 year period, not many institutions hired minorities to fill their vacant positions.

What’s striking is the gross under-representation of minority professors at America’s higher education schools. While many may be concentrated within Historically Black Colleges and Universities or schools who have a high number of black students, that percentage makes barely a dent in the overall number of black, Asian, Hispanic, and American indigenous who may teach at America’s best schools of higher learning.

While the government is rightly focused on college affordability, we should slightly turn our attention towards why many colleges and universities fail to hire minorities for faculty and professorship positions.

What do you think? Do you think we need to expand our focus on what diversity is and re-think the initiatives we use to increase it?

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.


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