Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness in Higher Education

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness in Higher Education

Kristopher Copeland, Eunice N. Tarver
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2410-7.ch015
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This chapter reviews diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education. Specifically, the American higher education institution was not developed with diversity in mind. The chapter examines how legislation set up a very segregated structure within the academy and civil rights lawsuits have provided turning points. Changes in the academy show equity gaps in attainment as well as gaps in the demographic information regarding staff, faculty, and administrators. This sets up the need for American higher education to focus on equity, and the authors argue this is critical to make deep societal changes. The chapter ends with an examination of the emerging trends related to diversity, equity, and inclusion movements within higher education.
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For years there has been discussion that a major demographic shift is coming; the shift where people of color, who were the minority, become the majority racial/ethnic demographic group in the United States. Students of color, who have historically been referenced as the minority, both as a number demographic and in a socially constructed way in which they have had less power within society, are now the population’s emerging majority student. While students of color are enrolling in higher education at a significantly higher rate than they have in the past, completion rates for historically underrepresented students of color and low-income students remain dismal (Escarcha, 2020; Levesque, 2018; Smith, 2019; Wyner, Witham & Zatynski, 2016). “Among all undergraduates nationwide, two-thirds of American Indian students and more than half of all African Americans and Latinos enroll in community college, and around 4 in 10 community college students are Pell Grant recipients” (Wyner, Witham & Zatynski, 2016, p. 6). For decades, community colleges have served and continue to serve as a pivotal gateway to higher education for students from historically underrepresented and underserved communities (Eddy, 2019; Ma & Baum, 2016). However, the majority of those who enroll in community college do not complete a post-secondary certificate or degree (Escarcha, 2020; Smith, 2019). “Fewer than four of every ten complete any type of degree or certificate within six years and only 14 percent of the entire cohort of entering community college students earns a bachelor’s degree within six years” (Levesque, 2018, p. 3). As a result of these alarming trends and the desire to do better from administrators leading community colleges and four-year institutions, there has been a significant wave of reform in higher education focused on improving equity in student success rates for low-income and students of color.

Intentional action towards greater student success requires a paradigm shift.

This paradigm shift requires the identification, examination, and dismantling of existing mindsets in higher education that serve as catalysts for marginalization, inequity, and intolerance. These mindsets impede the exploration and acceptance of difference as a core value in our democratic society and in effective educational environments (McNair, 2016, p. 32).

This paradigm shift requires a commitment from educators to become equity-minded practitioners who boldly work to create quality learning environments that serve all students well.

While there are several contemporary issues or challenges facing higher education, both two-year and four-year postsecondary education systems are beginning to prioritize efforts to eliminate racial/ethnic equity gaps in degree attainment as a strategy to drive economic growth in their local communities. Higher education funding models that only focus on institutional student enrollments are dwindling away. These models are being replaced with performance-based funding formulas, which are policies that direct state funding to those institutions that are in alignment with specified attainment outcomes. With the growing popularity across the nation of performance-based funding formulas, disparities in attainment continue to fuel the equity imperative in higher education that is sweeping the nation.

In Zaback, Carlson, Laderman, and Mann’s 2016 publication on Serving the Equity Imperative, they illuminated Steve Murdock’s presentation at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association Higher Education Policy Conference where he declared, “the economic prosperity of the entire nation hinges on reducing these equity gaps, since reducing them is the single greatest way for us to drive economic growth” (p. 2). Murdock’s expertise comes from his work as a demographer and former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, and he currently serves as a professor of sociology. As students of color emerge as the majority enrollment in public schools, the definition of a quality education has shifted to include welcoming campus environments prepared to support increasingly diverse student bodies, diverse inclusive curricula, and the prioritizing of instructional equity.

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