4 best practices around diversity and inclusion in higher education

By helping students experience different viewpoints, colleges will better prepare them for post-graduation and increase the value of their degree

The next generation of employees will be more diverse than ever before, and that’s a great thing for business. According to a McKinsey & Co. study, companies with greater ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have better financial returns than their peers, and companies with more gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to outperform their competitors.

Similarly, institutions of higher learning should consider the multicultural workforce of the future when planning for recruitment and programming; doing so will encourage a more creative learning environment, pushing the student body to experience different viewpoints and prepare for life after graduation—and increasing the values of their degrees.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, student-body diversity in higher education is important not only for improving economic and educational opportunities for students of color, but also for the social, academic, and societal benefits it presents for all students and communities. Students report less discrimination and bias at institutions where they perceive a higher commitment to diversity. The report also found that higher education improves social mobility for minorities; on average, African Americans and Hispanics who completed four-year college degrees earn double compared to those who only earned a high school diploma.

Colleges and universities need to emphasize both diversity and inclusion. While “diversity” translates to minority representation, “inclusion” means striving for minority involvement post-enrollment by providing equal access to opportunities and encouraging representation across majors.

4 ways your institution can strengthen its commitment to diversity and inclusion

1. Be a strong advisor
Many minority students will need help planning for academic success. For example, in 2016 more than 57 percent of bachelor’s-degree recipients from California State University, Fullerton, were the first in their families to graduate. Lacking a family member who can show them how to successfully navigate college, students like these need strong guidance on course selection, study habits, and managing their finances. Enlisting well-versed counselors is a must, and advisory programs should continue past freshman year.

2. Recruit diverse employees
To have a diverse faculty and staff on campus, colleges need to use gender-neutral job descriptions, promote on social media, and offer interviews by video conference for those who live far from campus. Organizations should also train talent-acquisition teams to recognize the need for hires of varying backgrounds, as doing so will better equip the university to serve all students.

3. Provide education and training
Many schools are offering training at freshman orientation regarding cross-cultural sensitivity, unconscious bias, and LGBTQ respect. Eric Love, director of staff diversity and inclusion at Notre Dame University in Indiana, hosts a series of events entitled “Diversity Discussions,” during which participants are encouraged to discuss difficult topics. At one of his recent events—“Black Lives, Blue Lives, All Lives: Do I Have to Choose Just One”—the police chief of Notre Dame appeared alongside the founder of the Black Lives Matter chapter from South Bend, Ind. Employees have told Love that these workshops and training sessions have helped them to feel more comfortable on campus than they expected.

4. Assess frequently
Send surveys and create forums for employees to express concerns. This will allow you to evaluate diversity and inclusion initiatives while giving employees and students the opportunity to voice constructive criticism and tips for improvement. Indiana University Bloomington distributes a survey asking students about cultural comfort and the opportunities to meet friends of similar background. Previous surveys have resulted in tangible changes, including increased research opportunities for undergraduates, improved career and academic advising, and changes to first-year student orientation.

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in higher education provides advancement opportunity for underrepresented communities. Also, research shows exposure to diverse backgrounds and perspectives improves academic achievement for students of all backgrounds, including critical thinking skills and academic self-confidence. To enhance educational effectiveness and to prepare the workforce of tomorrow, colleges and universities must continue to integrate diversity and inclusion into campus life for staff and students.

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