Educating a Diverse Nation
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Educating a Diverse Nation

Clifton Conrad, Marybeth Gasman

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eBook - ePub

Educating a Diverse Nation

Clifton Conrad, Marybeth Gasman

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Über dieses Buch

In an increasingly diverse United States, minority and low-income students of all ages struggle to fit into mainstream colleges and universities that cater predominantly to middle-income and affluent white students fresh out of high school. Anchored in a study conducted at twelve minority-serving institutions (MSIs), Educating a Diverse Nation turns a spotlight on the challenges facing nontraditional college students and highlights innovative programs and practices that are advancing students' persistence and learning.Clifton Conrad and Marybeth Gasman offer an on-the-ground perspective of life at MSIs. Speaking for themselves, some students describe the stress of balancing tuition with the need to support families. Others express their concerns about not being adequately prepared for college-level work. And more than a few reveal doubts about the relevance of college for their future. The authors visited the four main types of MSIs—historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander–serving institutions—to identify strategies for empowering nontraditional students to succeed in college despite these obstacles. Educating a Diverse Nation illuminates such initiatives as collaborative learning, culturally relevant educational programs, blurring the roles of faculty, staff, and students, peer-led team learning, and real-world problem solving. It shows how these innovations engage students and foster the knowledge, skills, and habits they need to become self-sustaining in college and beyond, as well as valuable contributors to society.

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The Challenge of Educating a Diverse America

The 2010 census made clear that the United States is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.1 For now and the foreseeable future, our nation is drawing much of its cultural, social, and economic vitality from “new minorities”—particularly Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races—while continuing to depend on the contributions of others, including American Indians and Alaska Natives, Blacks, Whites, and the dozens of other racial and ethnic communities that make up the United States.
The rapidly increasing diversity in this country is grounded in two demographic dynamics. First, immigration continues to have a major influence on both the size and the age structure of the American population. Although most immigrants arrive as young adults, when they are most likely and willing to assume the risks of moving to a new country, U.S. immigration policy has also favored the entry of parents and other family members of these young immigrants. Second, racial and ethnic groups are aging at different rates, depending on fertility, mortality, and immigration within these groups. According to projections based on the 2010 census, by 2050 we will be a nation in which people of color will outnumber the White population.
Evidence of this growing diversity is already apparent. According to U.S. Census data, between 1980 and 2010, as the nation’s population grew by nearly 40 percent, Asians and Pacific Islanders increased by 335 percent, followed by Hispanics (246 percent), American Indians / Alaska Natives (106 percent), and Blacks (nearly 50 percent). In contrast, the White population grew by 29 percent. As a result, the distribution of the White population in the United States declined by 11 percent, while Asian Americans and Native American Pacific Islanders, for instance, increased from less than 2 percent of the population to 5 percent, and Hispanics2 from just under 7 percent to 16 percent. And between 2000 and 2010, the nation saw a 32 percent growth in individuals who identify with more than one race.3 By 2012, more babies of color were born than White babies, and ten states and thirty-five major metropolitan areas had minority White child populations. This growing racial and ethnic diversity is made even more complex by differences in cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds in a nation where declining overall segregation is coupled with increased residential segregation for minority children and continued differences in social and cultural experiences by socioeconomic status.4
The students who come to college now are increasingly matching the new demographic realities of the United States.5 In the first decade of the twenty-first century, not only did fewer minority students drop out of high school, but they also made up an increased share of the students who took Advanced Placement exams as well as the SAT and the ACT.6 Despite historically lower academic preparation and lower graduation rates than their White peers, over the past two decades most groups of minority students have increased their rates of immediate transition to college, and the overall rate at which they enroll in college has remained steady or increased. The growing desire of minority students to attend college is reflected in undergraduate enrollments.7 Between 1980 and 2011, total undergraduate fall enrollment increased by 73 percent, with minority student enrollment increasing by almost 300 percent.8 Specifically, Hispanic enrollment increased a little over 500 percent, Black student enrollment increased by 165 percent, that of Asian and Pacific Islanders increased by 336 percent, and that of American Indians and Alaska Natives rose by 118 percent. Over the same period, the share of the undergraduate student body that is White declined by more than 26 percent. Minority high school graduates are now enrolling in college at parity with White students.9
The racially and ethnically diverse American student body arrives at college from different social origins as well. Between 1992 and 2002, the immediate transition for students from the lowest family-income quintile grew steadily, increasing eight percentage points, from 42 percent to 50 percent, nearly one-fifth. By 2012, more than 50 percent of children from the lowest family-income quintile and slightly less than 65 percent of children from the middle family-income quintile made the transition immediately from high school to college, joining the more than 82 percent of children from the top family-income quintile who do so. As college attendance becomes the rule rather than the exception for Americans who complete high school, students navigate classes and degree programs drawing on a wide spectrum of norms and experiences as well as educational and occupational aspirations and information about college.10
Like previous generations, the majority of diverse students now entering American colleges are seeking degrees and credentials,11 and they are more likely than their predecessors to view college primarily as a “workforce-development system.”12 Even though for many students the link between their college education and occupational development is indirect, they rightly view some college as giving them greater access to jobs that provide further training and access to technology at work, both of which are associated with a range of benefits and higher wages.13 For them, college appears to function as a gateway to training.
Increasingly, the choices American undergraduates make about majors and even the educational options that are available to them are linked directly to occupational growth and labor market demands for particular skill sets. White House Scorecards and guidance counselors inform students that people with different degree levels and kinds of degrees have different opportunities, and higher degrees are not always leading to higher earnings.14 American undergraduates now make educational choices in a setting where almost a quarter of those who hold occupational or vocational associate degrees earn more than the average bachelor’s degree holder, and certificate and license holders with no degree earn on average more than a quarter more than bachelor’s degree holders.15 For many of these students, a college education means completing “some college” so they can earn more than high school graduates (though not as much as degree holders) in occupations that are hiring where they live.

The Challenge: Providing Diverse Students with Opportunities to Learn

While differences in access to college by race, ethnicity, and social class continue to exist, the opening of American colleges and universities to a diverse society is something of a success story. By 2011, historical gaps in the immediate transition from high school to college for different racial groups had closed substantially—70 percent of Whites, 66 percent of Blacks, and 62 percent of Hispanic high school completers made the transition.16 These students have come to college in search of degrees and capabilities that will enable them to take their place in a diverse society. In turn, our nation’s colleges and universities find themselves facing a formidable challenge: ensuring that the diverse Americans who are now coming to college have equal access to educational opportunities that will lead not only to degrees but also to developing the capacities they need to thrive in their lives.
There is no question that colleges and universities in the United States have long struggled to provide equal access to educational opportunities. Students from low-income families, for example, have been schooled to have lower college aspirations and are less likely to enroll in college regardless of their academic achievement. For Native Americans, schools in the United States played explicit and implicit roles in the religious and cultural conversion of Indians; as a result, Native Americans have long had reason to distrust educational institutions as well as teachers and to view a college degree as yet another exercise in forced assimilation. Once forbidden to learn to read and write, Black Americans could be legally denied access to public schools until 1954. Hispanic students have contended with the stereotype of being newly arrived, non-English-speaking “illegal aliens” with an interest in short-term jobs rather than education. Asian students, when they have been permitted access, have often been viewed as “inherently alien” students who either overachieve or fail to learn English. Lumped into often misleading groups, minority students often begin their college education having to prove they deserve a place in an American school, in some instances in the explicit presence of racial and ethnic slurs.
Consider the case of Native American students. Many come from communities marked by low levels of high school graduation and high unemployment, communities compromised by economic and social isolation and high rates of drug abuse and suicide, and so they begin their pursuit of a college degree with few options.17 On average, Native American students are older and more likely to be financially independent and to have dependent children than the typical American student; they are the smallest, poorest, and most underrepresented group of college students in the United States.18 A glance at enrollment and attainment rates confirms that few Native Americans find their way to college and that few finish degrees.19 In 2011, nearly half (48.6 percent) were enrolled in a public two-year college, and 15.4 percent of those in four-year colleges were at a Tribal College or University. The stories of other groups—and those of individual American Indian tribes—vary, but these stories share a common struggle in finding meaningful access in colleges designed for other people’s children. The diverse people who now make up the United States are coming to college, but the attainment of low-income students and most students from most minority groups continues to lag behind their representation in college. They do not yet have equal access to educational opportunity.
As difficult as it is, ensuring equal access to college is only half of the challenge of providing equal access to educational opportunity in a diverse society. Twenty-first-century colleges and universities have to do more than assimilate students into preexisting academic and social communities on campus and help them successfully pursue degrees. Our nation’s colleges and universities also need to provide a heterogeneous student body with equal opportunities to learn. To begin with, this means that institutions need to understand and value the cultural, social, and educational resources that each student brings to college. The students now coming to American colleges have been socialized in diverse contexts. They cannot be assumed to share common academic preparation, educational habits, or first languages. Meaningful opportunities to learn will provide diverse students with resources to integrate new information with their prior experience and their individual social or cultural senses of self as well as opportunities to experiment with new ways of knowing that are foreign to their experience.20 In turn, institutions need to document and respond to students’ reasons for resisting learning because of perceived threats or insults to their already existing identities.
Nowhere is the challenge of providing equal access to educational opportunity more clear than in the case of undergraduate minority students. These students have historically had limited choices. Hispanics and Native Americans have long enrolled in greater numbers at public two-year institutions, whereas Black students have been more likely to attend four-year institutions than other minority groups. Black and Hispanic students enroll in for-profit institutions at higher rates than White students. And even though many academically well-prepared minority students have increasingly become the target of intense recruitment by majority institutions, many minority students continue to be drawn to institutions relatively close to home where they value the presence of other minority students and a welcoming culture in an affordable setting.21 Some minority students choose a particular college to avoid potentially racially and ethnically hostile environments at majority institutions.22
Once enrolled, minority students often face formidable challenges on the pathway through college. Many not only struggle to make use of campus resources but find that becoming actively engaged in college can be challenging.23 Why? They may arrive on campus not fully prepared to do college-level academic work, with limited knowledge about higher education and with significant obligations to family and community. At majority institutions, minority students often find that campus cultures deem their experiences and even their identities as inferior and, in turn, they may struggle to maintain relationships with friends and family while they forge new relationships with faculty mentors and their college-going peers.24
Let us be clear. The difficulty in providing every adult in a diverse nation with equal access to educational opportunities does not involve convincing diverse students to come to college. They are coming. It lies in providing students with access to institutions that understand and value their experiences and resources, challenging them with the obligation and the opportunity to learn what really matters to them, and getting them to a degree. The und...