Dr. Alexis Georgakopoulos
Nova Southeastern University
The Benefits of Receiving a Diverse Education
Students entering into college today are the most “racially and ethnically diverse in this nation’s history” (Coomes & DeBard, 2004, p. 33). This diverse generation that is beginning to matriculate through college programs are known as the Millennial Generation. As this generation began to enter college, the percentage of white students decreased from 81.5 percent to 69.4 percent (Coomes & DeBard, 2004). Diversity among higher education will continue to play an intricate part in the daily lives of college students as well as others who contribute to campus society. Diversity is more apparent among college campuses than it was thirty-five years ago (Light, 2001). Students represented on campus back then were middle-class, white males (Light, 2001). Now, “slightly over half of students on most campuses are women, and nearly 25 percent of all undergraduates across America are nonwhite” (Light, 2001 p.129). Many of these students are also from families with “modest economic backgrounds” (Light, 2001 p. 129). Students state (Light, 2001) that there are two parts to take into consideration when discussing diversity on campus, access and educational impact. The first part, access, “do students who have different backgrounds have the opportunity to attend any college” (Light, 2001 p. 130). The second part, educational impact, asks, “What is the impact, educationally and personally, on students from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, of attending college with fellow students from diverse backgrounds” (Light, 2001 p. 130). Many students feel that the first part has been resolved and “while access was denied in the past, this is no longer true” (Light, 2001 p. 131). When discussing the importance of a diverse learning environment, students make it a point to say “how well ethnic and racial diversity actually enhances learning depends largely on how well a college builds on, capitalizes on, and proactively strengthens this basic assumption” (Light, 2001 p. 133). Overall, many students feel that in order to receive a well-rounded education, diversity on campus plays an important role.
Students entering into college are looking for the overall college experience and diversity has an impact on these decisions. Research has been done regarding diversity within higher education. Specifically, research regarding the benefits of receiving a diverse education. Studies have been done assessing the affects of a diverse learning environment and students’ thoughts. By enhancing curriculum and interactions with a diverse classroom setting, students will gain intellect and active thinking skills. Some researchers argue that just by placing students in a new environment, intellect and active thinking skills will automatically enhance, therefore this is not due to the diverse surroundings. However, others believe that these enhancements are directly affected by their diverse surroundings.
Establishing an environment which broadens a student’s perspective has been determined by universities and colleges by increasing the amounts of diversity among their campuses. However even with this vital research and the positive effects on learning, some individuals and groups have “challenged the use of admissions practices designed to achieve a diverse student body of the grounds that such practices favor students of color and discriminate against specific white applicants” (Maruyama & Moreno, 2000, p. 9). Courts have ruled that colleges and universities cannot use participation rates among various ethnic and racial groups to justify that they have or do not have diverse student bodies (Maruyama & Moreno, 2000). Colleges and universities also have limited ability to rectify their admissions process to reflect individuals from a particular group (Maruyama & Moreno, 2000). This has resulted in the uncertainty to maintain or even gain diversity among colleges and universities.
The admissions process among colleges is complex when it comes to accepting students. They take into account an array of criteria before making their final decision. For example, colleges and universities take into account, “parents education attainment, socioeconomic status, urban/suburban/rural home, region of the state and country, the secondary school’s reputation, students’ cultural, ethnic, and racial background” (Maruyama & Moreno, 2000, p. 9). The most important factor colleges and universities look at when deciding on a student is whether or not the student accepts the core values and beliefs that, that college or university portrays. Through their mission, institutions can attract students with the same core value and belief system. The purpose of an institution’s mission statement is to portray this mission through classroom learning, campus involvement, and within community in which it presides. For years, institutions have strived for excellence among its students. The issue of diversity has longed been valued as important among campuses. “Diverse views are the backbone of universities, for they stimulate new ideas and creations” (Maruyama & Moreno, 2000, p. 10). Dating back to the Socratic tradition, the belief was “knowledge or understanding flourishes best in a climate of vigorous debate” (Maruyama & Moreno, 2000, p. 10). This still holds true today when examining multiculturalism within a structured learning environment. Some research suggests that students will gain a diverse education by just being placed within a diverse setting. There is no assurance of a student’s willingness to participate in diversity (Milem, Chang, & Antonio, 2005). For some students they follow the same pattern that they have followed their whole lives which is staying within their comfort zones. Hispanic students may conglomerate together to form a group, while African-American students form a group of their own. White students follow each other and as this pattern continues, students fail to participate within a diverse setting. According to Milem, Chang, and Antonio (2005), it is important to form interracial friendships in order to have an interracial campus. Many studies have shown that by having close friends of a different race or ethnicity is “a powerful way in which students accrues the education benefits of diversity” (Milem, Chang & Antonio, 2005, p. 9). According to Melissa Paquette and Barbara Schlafer in their article, The Many Benefits of a Diverse Campus Community (2005), students who hail from a racially and ethnically diverse student body, they “learn better, think deeper, and are better prepared to become active participants in society once they leave school” (Paquette & Schlafer, 2005). Research also suggests that in order for students to gain a diverse education and benefit, the institution must support and believe in these benefits as well. By providing support for diversity on campus through its programs and activities, institutions can begin to show that they believe in the benefits of a diverse education. Diversity among faculty is highly underrepresented among colleges who claim to be diverse. Institutions that support diversity must also show the support through the hiring of a diverse faculty. Although diversity among students has made great strides, faculty of color only represent about 10 percent of full-time undergraduate professors (Antonio, 2003). This growing diversity among students is affecting the lack of progress institutions are making in the faculty ranks (Antonio, 2003). Faculty and students influence each other; therefore it is only necessary to support a diverse faculty. Without both a diverse student and faculty population, ethnic studies and multiculturalism would not have been developed. Most education experts agree that students benefit from receiving a diverse education. It is not uncommon for a student to enter into college without any exposure diversity. Diversity can be examined in a multitude of ways; students entering into college for the first time are experiencing many different things, one which includes an education that will provide many schools of thought. References
Antonio, A. L. (2003, November-December). Diverse student bodies, diverse faculties: The success or failure of ambitions to diversify faculty can depend on the diversity of student bodies. Academe Online.
Astin, A. & Chang, M. exerted from Who benefits from racial diversity in higher education. Retrieved May 13, 2009, from http://www.diversityweb.org/Digest/W97/research.html . Coomes, Michael D. & DeBard, Robert (2004). Serving the Millennial Generation. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Light, R. J. (2001). Making the Most of College Students Speak Their Minds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Maruyama, G., and Moreno, J. (2000). University faculty views about the value of diversity on campus and in the classroom. American Council on Education and American Association on Univeristy Professors: Washington D.C. Milem, J.F., Chang, M., and Antonio, A.L. (2005). Making diversity work on campus: A research-based perspective. Associaiton of American Colleges and Univeristies: Washington, D.C. Paquette, M. and Schlafer, B. (2005). The many benefits of a diverse campus community. Retrieved July 5, 2009, from http://www.queensu.ca/equity/content.php?page=aaug29-2005.