With more than a decade of experience in advancing our diversity goals through strategic planning and a rich history of valuing diversity, Penn State is among the national leaders in higher education in diversity strategic planning. Our position in various rankings and benchmarks indicates achievement across several fronts, some of which are highlighted in Appendix A, which is taken from our fall 2007 update to the Penn State Board of Trustees.1 While our initial diversity efforts were largely ad hoc, our current strategic planning approach, adopted in 1998 with A Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State: 1998-2003, is now guided by established institutional processes, and we are presently embarking upon the third five-year plan, A Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State: 2010-15. As Penn State embarks upon this next phase of diversity strategic planning, the urgency of multicultural transformation has never been greater. Promoting equity and inclusivity in higher education is not only the right thing to do, it is also the strategic thing to do.
In the current financial, political, and social climate of our nation and our state, we frame our diversity goals not only in social justice but in terms of institutional viability and vitality, clearly locating diversity as a central value to our core mission. Traditionally, diversity goals have been pursued as a "moral imperative," but this approach doesn't provide a clear picture of the essential role diversity plays within higher education and society. Over time, legal and legislative challenges to diversity have brought about a more nuanced understanding of the advantages of diversity, such as being able to live, work, and lead in a global environment where multicultural skills are at a premium. Heterogeneous groups are stronger than homogeneous ones, engendering creativity and new approaches that are essential to maintaining a competitive edge-what is now known as the "business case" for diversity.
Another rationale has emerged that complements the business case by focusing on the broader importance of diversity in higher education. What might be called the "economic imperative" case for diversity arises from the insights of prominent economists such as Alan Greenspan 2 and Robert Hormats,3 who contend that America's economy and global competitiveness depend upon each citizen receiving quality higher education. This approach considers the demographic changes of the nation's workforce and the increasing need to tap into the subsets of the American population that traditionally have been underrepresented and/or underserved in higher education. Otherwise, "the U.S. economy will suffer and social divisions in this country will increase."4 This imperative is given added significance in light of the global and national economic crisis that we currently face.
Within education policy circles, the same imperatives emerge. The March 2008 edition of Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates by State and Race/Ethnicity, 1992-2022,5 identifies two main sets of findings: changes in total production of high school graduates and ever-increasing diversification. The conclusion of the executive summary describes the resulting challenges to the nation's schools, concluding that:
Our ability to meet these challenges will go a long way in determining whether all individuals have an equal opportunity to obtain a good education, get a decent job, and be productive contributors to our society and economy. It will also play a pivotal role in whether our states and our nation can remain competitive in a global, knowledge-based economy that is dependent upon our improving the educational attainment levels of all citizens, including those minority populations that are clearly growing the fastest in our society.
Pennsylvania's demographic projections are roughly comparable to those at the national level, though changes in Pennsylvania will be somewhat less dramatic. Expected changes include the rapid growth of the number of Hispanic high school graduates, coupled with a shrinking number of white non-Hispanic graduates. Pennsylvania's projected decline in the total number of public high school graduates between 2007-08 and 2014-15 is just over 9 percent, with the racial/ethnic composition continuing to diversify. The percentage of nonwhite students is projected to grow from 19 percent in 2004-05 to an estimated 25 percent by 2014-15.6
Higher education can and must make a significant contribution to meeting these societal challenges through initiatives that support the access and success of a diverse student population and give all students experience with intercultural issues. Thus, student success at Penn State must be envisioned, enacted, and evaluated in the context not only of our traditional student population base, but particularly of the segments of our student population that historically have been underrepresented and underserved in higher education, but are now increasing. These populations include low-income, first-generation college students; students of color; women students, including women in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields; veteran students; students with disabilities; adult learners, including those with dependent-care responsibilities; LGBT students; students from families that have recently immigrated to the United States; and international students. Such students typically bring great strengths, including intelligence, persistence, cognitive flexibility, and multicultural fluency. Recognizing and affirming the many positive and unique qualities and merits that each student brings to the table helps us to expand our definition of what constitutes excellence at Penn State.
The business and economic cases for diversity suggest that our "flat world" places a premium on international and multicultural skills among college graduates and that graduates with these types of skills, in turn, will make the strongest contribution to national and world economic growth. With the increased range of perspectives, approaches, skills, and knowledge bases in our world economy, the quality of educational outcomes and the ability of all graduates to be productive citizens and effective leaders in a global society will need to increase.7 Indeed, as we noted in the 2004-09 Framework, the compelling interest of diversity in higher education and the educational benefit to all students are now well known, and were acknowledged by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2003 rulings in two challenges to affirmative action involving the University of Michigan.8 Subsequent legislative and referendum challenges, proactive approaches, and continuing research have reinforced this understanding.9
Penn State takes great pride in helping to prepare the leaders of the future. Our graduates reflect and contribute to the success and reputation of our institution. Our emphasis on student centeredness and the corresponding benefits of diversity to the student body operate within the context of our role as one of the top institutions of higher education in the world.10 Our priority must be to provide the benefits of a diverse cohort to our student body, and also ensure an institution in which our diversity values are realized at all levels of the University including students, faculty, staff, leadership, governing and advisory bodies, curriculum, and outreach endeavors so as to optimize opportunities for excellence in all our endeavors by tapping into a broader range of intellectual diversity and expertise.
Higher education organizations such as the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC), American Council on Education (ACE), and others have long championed diversity initiatives as integral to the future. Current initiatives include AAC's "Making Excellence Inclusive: Diversity, Inclusion, and Institutional Renewal," co-sponsored by the Office of Education and Institutional Renewal and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives, and "Core Commitments: Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility," a signature initiative that "helps campuses create learning environments that prepare students to fulfill their obligations in an academic community and as global and local citizens."11 A new issue brief released by ACE, "Too Many Rungs on the Ladder? Faculty Demographics and the Future Leadership of Higher Education," emphasizes that "shifting demographic realities may require higher education to reexamine its traditional career ladder." The study is part of the "Spectrum Initiative: Advancing Diversity in the College Presidency," which promotes diversity at executive leadership levels in higher education, "capitalizing on the imminent wave of college presidents" retirements and the resulting opportunity to ensure a more inclusive pool of leadership talent."12
Fostering diversity must be recognized as being at the heart of our institutional viability and vitality, a core value of the academic mission, and a priority of the institution. We must enact what we envision and pursue the ongoing institutional transformation to achieve even greater success across all the dimensions and within each of the seven Challenges. With this 2010-15 Framework , Penn State begins the next phase of achieving our diversity potential.
Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity
314 Old Main,
University Park, PA 16802
Phone: (814) 865-5906, Fax: (814) 865-3997