Racial and Ethnic Inequities in Higher Education Have Lasting Implications

August 22, 2022

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Title: Racial and Ethnic Equity in US Higher Education

Authors: Diana Ellsworth, Erin Harding, Jonathan Law, Duwain Pinder

Source: McKinsey & Company

A new report from McKinsey & Company utilizes data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) highlights representation parity gaps for students and faculty and the subsequent implications these gaps have for life after college.

According to the report, most institutions have not reached representational parity for students or faculty, leading to lower completion rates for underrepresented groups. The analysis showed that 100 percent of Research 1 (R1) institutions have stated aspirational goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and 95 percent have senior executives to oversee those goals. However, only 9 percent of R1 institutions’ first-year classes in 2020 were more diverse than expected, an increase from 8 percent in 2013. Among current college students, 8 percent attend a school where there is equitable representation of underrepresented groups who graduate at above-average completion rates.

The authors also found that program completion rates are disproportionately lower for underrepresented groups. For example, for programs in natural resources and conservation, mathematics and statistics, and engineering, less than 20 percent of program completions are a student from an underrepresented group. Moreover, for programs in history, English and literature, and foreign language and linguistics, the growth rate of completion for underrepresented students is decreasing.

According to the report, staff and faculty demographics at higher education institutions are not representative of the U.S. population. In 2020, Black, Hispanic or Latino, and Indigenous people comprised 32 percent of the population and only 19 percent of higher education management. People of color also disproportionately work low-wage jobs at higher education institutions; 40 percent of service workers were from an underrepresented group.

In addition, a small selection of institutions are responsible for producing a large proportion of the future faculty at research-intensive institutions. Many R1 institutions do not employ a representative proportion of faculty from marginalized populations, leading to a lack of diversity within the research being conducted.

The authors proposed a number of recommendations for expanding racial and ethnic equity, including:

  • Reflecting on higher education’s historical and current role in racial and ethnic inequities, such as seeking to understand and acknowledge how racial and ethnic inequities have previously benefited an institution.
  • Reviewing systems for present-day perpetuation of inequities, such as analyzing demographic and academic outcome data to identify underrepresentation or divergence within minority groups.
  • Realigning to better reflect institutional goals and their potential for change, such as including diverse stakeholders in institutional goal setting and the creation of equity-centered programs.
  • Taking action to signal ongoing commitment and cement institutional equity in the long term, such as dedicating sufficient funding and talented individuals for monitoring initiatives and ensuring that equity becomes naturalized within an institution’s culture by regularly assessing and communicating progress.
  • Reforming collectively alongside other higher education institutions, such as expanding dual-enrollment programs or ending legacy admissions to improve college accessibility.

To read more about racial and ethnic equity in U.S. higher education, click here for the executive summary or here for the full report.

—Erica Swirsky

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