New report explores connection between faculty diversity and student success

Faculty at U.S. colleges and universities are overwhelmingly white, despite a student population that has become increasingly diverse, says a new report from The Education Trust, a non-profit committed to dismantling racial and economic barriers to higher education, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Faculty diversity plays a key role in students’ college completion and benefits the whole campus community by increasing students’ empathy and respect for others, problem-solving skills, and creativity, the report says. Research has shown the positive impact of faculty diversity on underrepresented minority students, with Black and Latinx college students more likely to persist and graduate if they have professors and role models who look like them. White students also have better cross-cultural and critical thinking skills if they are taught by diverse faculty.

Although George Floyd’s death led to calls for more welcoming college climates and increased diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in faculty hiring, the report says that little progress has been made: Black and Latinx faculty continue to be underrepresented at most public, four-year colleges and universities among tenured and tenure-track professors.To ensure student success, the report calls on colleges and universities to evaluate their recruitment practices and strengthen pipelines to professorship for Black and Latinx faculty.

Faculty diversity efforts falter

Based on 2020 data from 543 public four-year institutions, the report evaluated faculty diversity, hiring equity, and tenure equity, and graded institutions based on the extent to which the racial and ethnic composition of an institution’s faculty mirrored that of its student body. Institutions received higher grades if the diversity of their faculty matched student diversity. The report found that 57.3% of institutions had failing grades for Black faculty diversity, while 79.6% had failing grades for Latinx faculty diversity.

Researchers also found that many of the colleges that did make gains in faculty diversity were Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). Five of the top 10 institutions with the largest percentage change in Black faculty from 2005 to 2022 were Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or predominantly Black institutions (PBIs), and 8 of the top 10 institutions with the highest proportional growth in Latinx faculty hiring were Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs).

The Education Trust report isn’t the only study to warn of a lack of progress in faculty diversity. A new analysis of 1,250 institutions in Nature of Human Behavior also finds that higher education institutions will need to diversify their faculties at about 3.5 times the current pace if they want faculty to reflect the U.S. population in terms of race by 2050, Inside Higher Ed reports. Experts say that collaboration and systemic change will be needed if U.S. colleges and universities want to increase faculty diversity and meet students’ needs.

The recruitment and retention of diverse faculty is crucial to supporting student success, as Rosario Ceballo, dean of Georgetown University’s College of Arts & Sciences, said during the 2022 Summer Institute on Equity in the Academic Experience, which emphasized the need for interuniversity collaboration to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.

Recommendations for education leaders

The Education Trust report suggests several strategies higher education leaders and advocates can implement to achieve faculty diversification goals:

  • Colleges and universities should adopt specific targets for increasing Black and Latinx faculty and set aside money for the recruitment, retention, and success of underrepresented students and faculty members.
  • Institutions should establish opportunities for students and faculty with a shared sense of identity to connect and should create pathways to career advancement and university leadership for diverse faculty.
  • Universities should examine recruitment practices to reduce bias in the hiring process and ensure the institution’s mission and policies support faculty diversity initiatives.
  • Campus leaders should build more inclusive campus climates to instill a sense of belonging for faculty, students, and staff.
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