Diversity in Higher Education
Area schools strive to create campuses fit for all
Diversity on college campuses enriches a student’s educational experience as they learn from people whose culture and beliefs are different from their own, but recruiting students of color and making sure their college experience is a fulfilling one takes some effort.
And as businesses increasingly seek diversity in their ranks, it’s important for universities to produce qualified graduates who can meet that demand.
“It’s important for us to increase our diversity to provide the pipeline of students for businesses,” said Joyce McConnell, president of Colorado State University.
But many students don’t understand how to navigate the system, beginning with enrolling in a university and securing financial aid, and finding work-study programs that won’t impede their coursework while covering some of their expenses.
“While Colorado’s stats show an equity gap for diverse students even before the pandemic, during the pandemic we’re seeing those equity gaps exasperated,” McConnell said. “Some of that equity gap is caused by lack of access to broadband and internet.”
In terms of recruiting diverse students, CSU has selected high schools it’s identified as having significant diversity or location isolation — they may be more rural or have a high rate of poverty. It sends staff into those schools to recruit and advise students on their options for a higher education.
“We work with a lot of foundations that really want to support first-generation and diverse students coming into college,” McConnell said.
Once students are on campus, CSU has programs that will help them succeed. It establishes learning communities where students who have similar needs and backgrounds live together and take the same courses. The university provides academic support in areas where it knows there may be some weaknesses.
“STEM students may have more difficulty as they try to navigate math,” McConnell said. “What we’d like to do is expand these services to other people.”
New-student orientation is a critical piece to ensuring success for the University of Colorado Denver’s minority population, said Alana Jones, the institution’s vice chancellor of student success. Orientation covers living and learning opportunities as well as financial aid and scholarships.
“We meet the students where they’re at,” Jones said. “Every student has a different need and different support requirement.”
Located on the Auraria Campus, the university offers a number of work-study programs through a centralized career center that encourages students to think about their career pathways. Through its third-party partner Single Stop program, UCD also helps students find additional support such as grants or housing.
“A diverse campus is integral to our identity,” Jones said. “We want to create a welcoming environment for all students. It’s part of a true educational and experiential journal for students to have interactions with a diverse population.”
Metropolitan State University, also located on the Auraria Campus, largely serves the Hispanic population and doesn’t have a large percentage of out-of-state students compared with other four-year institutions. Metro State spends a lot of time making sure its students have access to financial aid and ensuring they have connections and guidance to enroll.
“Over 50 percent of our students are first generation,” said Cynthia Baron, MSU’s associate dean for equity and student engagement.
The University of Colorado Boulder has partnerships around the state that help to academically and socially prepare middle and high school students for college. The programs provide enrichment activities for about 1,500 students and their families each year, said Andrew Sorenson, a university spokesperson.
“A key audience for these efforts are first-generation scholars and students who live in geographically diverse communities,” Sorenson said. “The programs have had great success: 99 percent of program participants graduate from high school, 90 percent go to college, and 76 percent attend a four-year college. About 73 percent of these students graduate from CU Boulder each year.”
Getting students onto campus is the first step, but ensuring they graduate presents another set of challenges. The University of Colorado-Boulder, which hosts a variety of recruitment events each year, provides an array of academic success programs to support students from low-income backgrounds, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.
The Diverse Scholars Program in CU’s Leeds School of Business, for example, is designed to empower and equip diverse students with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel as scholars, individuals and business professionals. The program’s four pillars of academic achievement, educational excellence, professional development and community building ensure students have the opportunity to be both learners and leaders during their undergraduate experience.
There’s also the College of Engineering and Applied Science’s BOLD Center, which is committed to creating a diverse environment. Its programs promote the recruitment, retention and development of engineering students.
But for all the efforts Colorado’s higher education institutions are making, it’s still difficult for some students from diverse backgrounds to fit into the system, said Travis Heath, a professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology. Universities, he said, need to change their systems if they are to truly serve diverse populations.
“Just diversity isn’t enough,” Heath said. “Nothing can exist outside the infrastructure in which it was created,” Heath said. “You have to create new infrastructure.”