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Diversity Among Higher Education Admission Professionals Is More Important Than Ever

By David Hawkins and Tara Nicola—August 16, 2017

The population of students entering higher education is more diverse than at any point in our nation’s history, with continued, significant growth ahead. According to data from the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, 45 percent of the country’s public high school graduates will be non-white by 2020.

As the high school population in the United States grows increasingly diverse, so too should those professionals who work on college campuses. Research has shown that improving the diversity of university faculty and staff is important: It improves the learning outcomes of students (Milem, 2003) while also creating a more inclusive campus climate where incidents of discrimination and bias are less prevalent (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).

Diversity is especially critical in college and university admission offices. Admission counselors not only serve as the face of their respective institutions to prospective students, they also are responsible for shaping the future of the university through admitting each incoming class. However, the latest research from our organization, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), suggests university admission offices are far from diverse.

In November 2016, NACAC, in collaboration with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), undertook a study of 559 institutional chief admission officers to better understand their career paths, aspirations and primary responsibilities in the enrollment management field. Data revealed that an astounding 85 percent of survey participants were white—only 8 percent identified as Black/African American, and even fewer identified as Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native or multi-racial.

This data mirrors results from a 2014 NACAC survey that indicated 80 percent of all admission officers, including entry- and senior-level professionals, at U.S. institutions identified as white, non-Hispanic. Strikingly, communities of color were underrepresented within all segments of the admission profession; this was especially true at the senior level, where only 16 percent of directors of admission were non-white.

Our data further show not only that administrators of color had lower average lengths of tenure in their position than their white peers, but also that they were the most likely to leave the admission counseling field altogether. Only 14 percent of white, non-Hispanic professionals were seeking a new career outside of admissions, but 73.7 percent of Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic and multi-racial respondents were exploring other opportunities (NACAC, 2014).

Issues concerning diversity—including the retention of administrators of color—is not limited to the admission counseling profession. Studies have found more generally that despite higher education institutions increasingly championing the importance of diversity on their campuses, their staff are overwhelmingly homogenous. In fact, 2013 employment data from the U.S. Department of Education indicated that minorities represented only a quarter of all student affairs employees in postsecondary institutions (Snyder et al., 2016). This trend is further reflected in senior leadership, where the percentage of college presidents who are racial or ethnic minorities stands at just 16.8 percent (American Council on Education, 2017).

Read more at Higher Education Today.

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