Many leaders at colleges and universities are experiencing a high level of frustration over how to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues at their institutions. Usually, expenses are tight, and they feel they cannot afford to have a dedicated staff member focused on DEI. This post by OMNI Senior Consultant & Higher Education Practice Leader Roger Dusing, PhD, explains why leaders can’t afford the implications of failing to address DEI issues. (Image from ShutterStock)
When I talk with leaders at many small colleges, I find they are frustrated about how to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues at their institution. Usually, expenses are tight, and they feel they cannot afford to have a dedicated staff member focused on DEI. They also acknowledge that higher education is not a highly diverse industry, especially in small towns and rural areas. But two recently published surveys suggest that all of higher education, including the small schools, need to spend some time talking about how they can ensure they are diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
Niche.com, a website connecting students and schools, recently surveyed the high school senior class of 2023. This survey found:
As with the Class of 2022, diversity was the top thing that students want in a campus community. A diverse student body was appealing to 42% of respondents and an additional 37% said that it was a must-have in their college experience. Diversity among faculty and staff was appealing to 45% and an additional 31% identified it as a must-have community feature.
This indicates to me that any school not actively working to ensure their student body, faculty, and staff have a reasonable level of diversity are going to be less attractive to incoming students. For most new students, it does not appear that diversity is the primary driver of their decision, but it is very important. As the competition for traditional students heats up, no school can afford to be hamstrung because they do not actively embrace diversity.
Then, a report from the College Features Foundation shows that college presidents are overwhelmingly white males, and that white males are the most acceptable candidates for vacant presidential positions. This has got be concerning. Diversity is often a consideration that flows down from the top. When the President and his cabinet are predominately white males, what is the likelihood that they will hire non-white men for other leadership positions? Unfortunately, I think that likelihood is small.
College boards need to seek out qualified women and candidates of color for their senior officers. Then, those executives need to work just as hard to increase the diversity in the senior ranks and then down through the organization. And yes, maybe you do need someone on staff, full time, who helps to facilitate those searches and works with diverse hires to make sure they are successfully integrated into the campus community. It may do more harm than good to attract diverse candidates and then see them leave in their first year because they don’t feel welcomed and included in their new community.
Here’s the bottom line: DEI is very important to all of higher ed, but it may be a more significant concern to smaller schools that, to date, have not taken the steps to bring about a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus. Making that investment will pay off. Failing to do so may make your educational institution less attractive to new students in an already competitive environment. OMNI’s expert consultants can help.
Roger Dusing, PhD, is a Senior Consultant and the Higher Education Practice Leader at OMNI. He previously served as Chief Human Resource Officer at Park University for eleven years. With over 40 years of HR experience, including 30 years in C-suite level roles, he looks forward to reflecting his passion for higher education in his work to bring affordable, high-quality HR services to small- to medium-sized colleges and universities.
Roger holds a PhD in Business Management, with a concentration in Human Resources from Northcentral University, a Master of Science in Administration from Central Michigan University, and a BS in Industrial Engineering from Bradley University. He also authored the book “I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable About the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another.”