Faculty Diversity and Student Success Go Hand in Hand, So Why Are University Faculties So White?
Faculty diversity plays a key role in college student completion and can have a major impact on students’ sense of belonging, retention rates, and persistence. All students benefit from faculty diversity. Engaging with diverse faculty and different perspectives builds empathy, a respect for others, and creativity, and improves problem-solving skills — and Black and Latino students, who are pursuing college degrees in greater numbers, are more likely to graduate when they have diverse faculty members who look like them and can serve as positive mentors and role models.
That is why we created this report, which examines faculty diversity relative to student diversity, as well as hiring equity, tenure equity, and changes in faculty representation over time for Black and Latino faculty at public, four year institutions, and highlights colleges and universities that are making progress on diversifying their faculties and those that have more work to do.
The results weren’t great. Our findings show that Black and Latino faculty are severely underrepresented at most public, four-year colleges and universities.
If institutions are going to improve faculty diversity, they will need to examine their hiring and retention practices, improve campus racial climates, and make resources available to faculty members of color, so they can build and hone their skills and find community. Leaders should ensure that their actions align with their stated missions and strategic goals for faculty diversity. But that’s just for starters.
We offer a variety of other recommendations for institutional leaders, advocates, and federal and state policymakers on building faculty diversity via funding and strategic planning and campus climate initiatives.
Recommendations - How Campus Leaders and Policymakers Can Improve Faculty Diversity
Staff and non-tenure track professionals play a significant role in producing positive student outcomes, but institutional, state, and federal leaders can increase student success by ensuring that people of color are adequately represented among faculty.
While few policies at the state and federal levels directly address faculty diversity, there are several ways that higher education leaders can not only boost faculty diversity but use it to improve college completion.
- Adopt Goals to Increase Access, Persistence, and Retention. Colleges and universities must develop specific targets for increasing Black and Latino faculty on their campuses.
- Increase funding for research opportunities. Institutions can invest more in recruiting underrepresented students for doctoral/terminal degree programs and prioritize grant applications for federal funding of undergraduate and graduate research opportunities.
- Ensure that campus priorities are aligned with faculty diversity initiatives. Institutional leaders should ensure that the mission, goals, and implementation of policies are helping, not hampering, faculty diversity initiatives.
- Improve campus racial climates. Campus leaders should focus on improving campus racial climates, as this would yield positive outcomes for students and faculty.
- State higher education executive officers should include faculty diversity in the strategic planning process, by prioritizing funding for faculty diversity initiatives, setting goals and benchmarks, collaborating with institutional leaders, and creating incentive programs.
- Rescind state bans on affirmative action. The use of affirmative action in admissions is banned in nine states. Yet evidence shows that many public colleges and universities in those states have seen declines in Black and Latino student representation on their campuses.
- Prioritize funding for institutions that serve the most Black and Latino students. HBCUs, HSIs, and other minority-serving institutions with a designated mission, often lead the way in enrolling and graduating Black and Latino students who go on to graduate school and faculty positions.
- Increase funding for federal programs that support undergraduate and graduate research and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).
- Increase federal funding for institutions that serve the most Black and Latino students and provide technical assistance.
- Use executive action to support diversity and inclusion efforts. While the federal government has no formal role in promoting faculty diversity in higher education, many executive orders relating to affirmative action in higher education have supported diversity and inclusion efforts .
A Deeper Look into the Report
It’s no secret that educational diversity enhances educational quality. Research has repeatedly highlighted its various benefits. We know that campus racial and ethnic diversity enriches the educational experience of all campus community members by exposing them to different perspectives. Given falling enrollment and employers’ desire for more skilled workers, colleges should be trying to make campuses more inclusive and welcoming.
Boosting faculty diversity is one way to do that. Research shows that faculty diversity and a sense of belonging are key components of student success, and recent studies demonstrate that overall graduation rates for students of color are positively affected by faculty diversity. A recent study noted that Black students who enroll in STEM courses taught by Black instructors are more likely to persist in a STEM field after their first year.
It’s easy to understand why. Many students of color, especially at predominantly White universities, see Black and Latino faculty as mentors and role models and look to them for guidance and support .
People of color are also vastly underrepresented in the senior administrative posts that are typically stepping-stones to the college presidency (86% of higher-education administrators are White), since candidates tend to come up through the faculty pipeline (see Figure 2).
Many college presidents say that improving campus climate and hiring more people of color are high priorities (see Figure 3), but the shares of Latino faculty and Black college presidents have barely budged in 16 years.
Each of the 543 institutions in this report was given a set of faculty diversity scores and grades. These scores measure the extent to which the race and ethnicity of an institution’s faculty mirrors the student body and assess how diverse the faculty ranks are across several hiring metrics. We also examined faculty diversification over time.
For our first three equity metrics ( 1. Faculty diversity score (relative to student diversity ), 2. Equity in faculty hiring, 3. Equity in faculty tenure), faculty diversity scores range from 0 to 100, with 0 being the worst score and 100 being the best score an institution can receive. We then used these scores to assign a letter grade to each institution using a traditional grading scale. Scores of 90 or higher received A’s. Scores in the 80s, 70s, and 60s received B’s, C’s, and D’s, respectively. Scores below 60 received F grades.
Finally, we calculated a faculty diversity metric over time. This metric is not assigned a traditional letter grade but is represented by the percentage point change between 2005 and 2020.
More than half (57.3%) of institutions earned failing grades for Black faculty diversity, and another 13.3% received a D grade. Only 13.4% earned an A grade, 7% earned a B grade, and the other 9% of public colleges in our sample received a C grade. Institutions fared even worse on Latino faculty diversity. More than three-quarters of the institutions in our sample got an F grade, while 6% got a D grade. Only 7% of the institutions in our sample earned an A, and just 4% received a B.
The hiring equity metric assesses whether there is equity in hiring between racial/ethnic groups for full time, tenure-track positions at a given institution. Unfortunately, when we looked closely, we found that Black and Latino faculty are disproportionately hired for non-tenure-track roles and are vastly underrepresented among tenured and tenure-track faculty.
Slightly more than one-third of institutions received an A grade for equitable hiring of Black faculty members. Of these, 67, or 13%, had hired all new Black faculty with tenure or on the tenure track. Nearly 1 in 4 institutions received an F grade, and 35 of them hired all new Black faculty without tenure or on the tenure track, and 50 institutions did not hire any new Black faculty in 2020.
Similarly, 46% of institutions received an A grade for their Latino faculty hiring equity score. Of these schools, 80, or 15% had hired all new Latino faculty with tenure or on the tenure track. While 25% of the institutions in our sample received an F, based on the number of new Latino faculty hires, 48 of them (9%) received an F because none of their new Latino faculty hires were hired onto the tenure track. Seventy-six (76) institutions, or 15%, did not have any new Latino faculty hires.
Looking within racial and ethnic groups across campuses helps us paint a fuller picture of tenure equity (or the lack thereof) in the higher education landscape. When we looked at the percentages of tenured faculty by race and ethnicity, we found that 44.5% of institutions had an A grade for their equitable hiring of Black faculty, and 15.9% of institutions had an F grade for tenure equity for Black faculty. Notably, 23 of the institutions (4.2%) in our sample had no Black faculty and received no grade.
By the same token, 54.6% of institutions received an A grade for tenure equity for Latino faculty, while 13.5% of institutions received an F grade for tenure equity for Latino faculty. Overall, 24 of the institutions (4.4%) had no Latino faculty, so they did not receive a grade.
Our review of faculty demographics over time reveals that many of the highest percentage increases in Black and Latino faculty were at institutions that had no (that is, zero) Black or Latino faculty in 2005, so any increase amounted to a large percentage point increase. In 2020, those institutions that had made the most progress on hiring Black faculty had increases of anywhere from 5.6% to 13.8%.
Similarly, the largest percentage point increases of Latino faculty at institutions ranged from 6.3% to 13.5%.
It is no secret that minority-serving institutions (MSIs) play a critical role in enrolling and graduating students of color. They also play a critical role in diversifying the professoriate. Our data analysis shows that many of the institutions with the largest increases in Black and Latino faculty over the last 15 years were MSIs. In fact, 5 of the top 10 institutions with the highest proportional growth in Black faculty 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 Latino faculty were Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs).