Racial Parity In Higher Education Is Far, Far Away

You likely won’t see racial parity in higher education for another seven decades.

A new report by McKinsey & Co found that representation at U.S. colleges and universities from 2013 to 2020 has largely come from Hispanic and Latino students. If the rate of enrollment for Hispanic and Latino students slows to the pace of other minority students, racial parity will never occur, Bloomberg reports.

“Current rates of change suggest that it would take about 70 years for all not-for-profit institutions to reflect underrepresented students fully in their incoming student population, primarily driven by recent increases in Hispanic and Latino student attendance,” according to the report. “For Black and Native American students and for faculty from all underrepresented populations, there was effectively no progress from 2013 to 2020.”

The study served more than 3,000 institutions with enrollment of about 2.4 million first-time students. McKinsey found that most institutions have not reached racial parity for first-time students.

“Our analysis suggests that higher education has opportunities to address many of these gaps,” the authors of the report state. “However, our analysis of student representation over time also suggests that progress has been uneven. In 2013, 38 percent of all not-for-profit institutions had a more diverse population than would be expected given the racial and ethnic makeup of the traditional college-going population—that is, 18- to 24-year-olds, our proxy for equitable racial representation—within a given home state. By 2020, that number was 44 percent. At this rate, the student bodies of not-for-profit institutions overall will reach representational parity in about 70 years, but that growth would be driven entirely by increases in the share of Hispanic and Latino students.”


When it comes to faculty, racial parity is even worse than students. According to the report, only 1% of faculty at ‘highly research-intensive’ institutions is diverse enough to reflect the U.S. population.

“Progress in diversifying full-time faculty ranks to match the total population over the past decade has been negligible,” the report states. “It would take more than 1,000 years at the current pace to reach parity for all not-for-profit institutions.”

One option for improving racial parity, according to report, is for colleges and universities to consider targeted programs that support the work of researchers from underrepresented populations. The report cites the University of Massachusetts Boston as a positive example. At UMass Boston, at least 20 percent of the faculty-hiring budget is allocated for pairing a specialized hire with a complementary hire from a historically marginalized group.

“Finally, universities could ensure that their financial success is translated into positive outcomes for the surrounding communities,” the authors state. “Action from the higher-education sector could result in institutions—especially ones with significant endowments—committing to investing in their surrounding communities.”

Sources: McKinsey & Co, Bloomberg

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