Statement of Need/Problem Statement
Effective diversity practices in higher education are critical components to closing achievement gaps and increasing the graduation rates for both majority students, as well as those from under-represented groups (Bauman, Bustillos, Bensimon, Brown & Bartee, 2005; Milem, Chang, Antonio, 2005; Williams, 2013). In addition, utilizing diversity best practices in hiring, employee retention, and professional development helps ensure a more diverse workforce equipped to support the success of our diversifying student bodies (Anderson, 2008; Williams, 2013). Despite the importance of diversity practices in higher education, little consistency exists across institutions regarding diversity benchmarks, or how these benchmarks are measured. Nor does wide-spread dissemination of the results of our diversity efforts occur, hampering our knowledge acquisition regarding best ways to support the success of all of our students in higher education.
From 2007-2011, Bridgewater State University (BSU) utilized funding received from the Nellie Mae Foundation to engage in a range of higher education diversity best practices focused on increasing the graduation rates of students of color, first-generation students, and students from low-income/Pell-eligible families. At the end of the grant period, graduation rates increased by 4% for all of BSU first-time full-time students, 4% for low-income students, and 12% for students of color. BSU’s experience was further evidence that a campus-wide commitment to diversity best practices results in student success.
In an effort to share and encourage diversity best practices in higher education, BSU hosted a two-day conference in August 2013 entitled Leading for Change: Diversity Practices in Higher Education, attended by 214 participants representing 48 public and private higher education institutions from across the Commonwealth. This conference not only provided an overview of some of BSU’s diversity best practices, but offered structured exercises and facilitated support for campus teams to use to assess their own diversity campus practices and set diversity goals for their institutional work. Subsequent to their conference participation, campus representatives have reported implementing diversity initiatives on their campuses including the following: re-writing an institutional mission statement to include a focus on diversity and social justice; creating a diversity intercultural dialogues series; initiating a bystander discrimination intervention program; and increasing data collection and faculty development efforts focused on supporting the success of all students.
In order to build on this momentum and support institutions of higher education in Massachusetts and the New England region to advance in campus diversity efforts, BSU has begun working with diversity experts from Bristol Community College, Emerson College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Massachusetts Amherst on the creation of the Leading for Change Higher Education Diversity Consortium.
Mission of the Leading for Change Higher Education Diversity Consortium
The Leading for Change Higher Education Diversity Consortium is a voluntary collaboration of institutions of higher education in Massachusetts and the greater New England region committed to identifying student and employee diversity best practices through uniform and transparent use of data, institutional benchmarks, and reflective practice. The consortium’s benchmarks were unveiled at the June 11, 2014 Leading for Change Conference held at Bridgewater State University; institutions were invited to join the consortium at that time.
Working with outside evaluators from Brandeis University, participating institutions will agree to submit detailed annual reports to the diversity consortium planning committee highlighting the metrics achieved as well as the practices employed to attain these results. This state-wide emphasis on both data-driven and reflective practice will result in a wealth of information focused on institutional practices, policies, and pedagogies that support the success of students and employees from all identities and backgrounds. These reports will be summarized and posted on the consortium’s website for public viewing.
Outcomes of Diversity Consortium
The consortium will create both short-term and longer-term outcomes that will benefit a range of constituencies. Almost immediately the diversity consortium will offer institutions in the Commonwealth and region the following:
- Common diversity definitions and benchmarks: At present limited uniformity exists in the Commonwealth’s colleges’ and universities’ diversity goals or benchmarks. Institutions who volunteer to participate in this diversity consortium will agree to work towards the same diversity goals, and gather the data regarding the success in reaching these goals in the same manner.
- An ethos and process in support of transparency across the Commonwealth and region regarding the results of our diversity efforts in higher education: This common benchmarking process will allow an unprecedented level of transparency regarding institutions’ success in supporting the success of students and employees from a range of backgrounds and social identities.
- A website allowing potential students and applicants to compare institutions’ diversity efforts: The transparency would allow potential students and job applicants to compare institutions using the same benchmarks on indicators such as graduation rates of students from under-represented groups and campus climate for employees from a range of social identities. Examples of the types of questions that this website would help answer as they compare institutional data include: “Where will my child who is African American or living with a disability or GLBT have the best chance of graduating?” “As an employee from historically under-represented groups, where would I feel the most welcome and supported?”
Within a few years, the diversity consortium will provide both the Commonwealth and higher education in general some additional benefits including the following:
- A web-based compendium of data-driven diversity practices from a range of different types of campuses: Institutions participating in the diversity consortium will be required to share their diversity programs/initiatives/strategies, and the results of these efforts as they work to meet the diversity benchmarks.
- The creation of diversity best practice information: The information on this website will make it possible to identify what data-driven practices support the success of diverse students and employees at different kinds of institutions. Those institutional practices that are found to be effective will be highlighted in plenary sessions at the annual Leading for Change Conference and in professional publications, adding to the best practice knowledge base of higher education.
- A team of diversity consultants: The annual reports from participating institutions will help the diversity consortium identify those institutions that excel at meeting each benchmark. Campuses that have success in reaching diversity benchmarks will provide cost-free training to other members of the consortium regarding how they achieved success.
- A model for the creation of a state-wide diversity consortium in higher education: This consortium will offer a model for creating state-wide coalitions focused on diversity best practices which will be widely shared with the higher education community.