Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education

 In Career Services, CSM

The topic of diversity and inclusion in higher education is more widely discussed now than it ever has before. These discussions are directly correlated to the fact that the higher education student population has become substantially more diverse in the last 20 years. The Association of American Colleges & Universities reported that “students of color made up just 29.6 percent of the undergraduate student population in 1996, increasing to 45.2 percent in 2016.” With a growing diverse population is a growing need for higher education institutions to implement more diversity and inclusion initiatives to meet the needs of their students.

Symplicity published a survey a month ago asking CSM clients to share about their experiences implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives. There were a lot of responses we received from individuals sharing about their institution’s initiatives. Linda Chesney from York College/CUNY said that she implements diversity and inclusion by hiring “a balance of staff members who reflect the student population and is gender balanced. It’s my policy for my office to have programs and opportunities to reflect my student body and application pool.” Another client, Tayah Butler from North Carolina State University, said that she “added career fair events to illuminate the D&I practices of attending companies… added diverse reading and case study materials to curriculum, and added cultural competence training to all student organization leadership.” These are a couple of examples of ways to integrate diversity and inclusion into the culture of a higher education institution.

Unfortunately, not all of the diversity and inclusion initiatives are instantly successful and there are certain factors that are involved. A common obstacle that faced these initiatives were time, resources, and funding. Sometimes the obstacle was communication, as Elise Goldwasser from Sanford School Duke University noted. She said it was difficult “coordinating with other units in Sanford and on campus.” Another obstacle that Mark Smith from Washington University in St. Louis encountered was campus partnerships. In Smith’s experience, “Free standing programs don’t work as well.” The fact that these initiatives faced obstacles didn’t mean that they weren’t worth implementing.

Every institution has varying diverse populations that experience different challenges which means students won’t always respond the same way to different initiatives. As Alison Fecher from Clemson University noted, “Don’t cop out of trying just because your solution isn’t perfect. Remember that presenting to ‘all’ students is still only presenting to certain groups. Diverse recruitment takes time and effort.” Many CSM clients shared that the solution to diversity and inclusion is different for each school based on their student population and these initiatives can be improved with feedback. Mary Andrade from the University of Louisville stated that conducting focus groups was a good method for getting feedback. Outside of feedback, clients shared additional recommendations for improvement.

Other recommendations included making sure the diversity strategies were targeted to specific populations. For Barbra Hauswirth from Washtenaw Community College, after deciding on the diversity strategies, it was helpful to “have one person who is in charge of leading those efforts for that population. Each individual in our office has segmented populations so we can immerse ourselves in how to serve those populations.” Matthew Upton from Bush School of Government (Texas A&M University), highly recommended “having an alum of the school speak to incoming students and to our faculty/staff… because not only was he an expert in the field of diversity and inclusion, but he had lived it at our school!” There are many ways to support diversity and inclusion and it’s important to adjust the strategies to see what speaks best to the population at one’s institution.

The diversity and inclusion strategies that are implemented are up to the institution itself but if there are not initiatives in place, it’s well worth investigating how to implement one. With a growing diverse student population, the best way to reach those students is to help them feel involved and included. Symplicity is committed to supporting diversity and inclusion in all areas of student success with its market-leading products to help our clients better sustain these initiatives. For those interested in learning more, schedule a conversation with us or email info@symplicity.com.

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