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Representation (Access and Success)

Challenge 3: Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Student Body

Historically, Penn State has devoted considerable attention to this Challenge and has garnered considerable success in this area. Our enrollment of domestic students from diverse racial/ethnic groups has increased steadily, at both University Park and other campuses, reaching a total of 11,752 University-wide in fall 2008, which comprises 13.6 percent of the overall student body (excluding World Campus), our highest rate ever. Given national and state demographic trends, these numbers will continue to rise through this planning cycle and beyond. Our baccalaureate retention and graduation rates compare favorably with the most selective national public universities. For example, Penn State's most recent six-year graduation rates for African American students are among the highest in the Big Ten, flagship state universities, and other Pennsylvania public research universities. 20 The Dickinson School of Law topped the American Bar Association's 2007 list of law schools in minority enrollment by both percentage of growth and in absolute numbers, 21 despite national trends to the contrary. The College of Medicine has also achieved notable success in their enrollments, with fall 2008 enrollment figures at 49 percent women and 33 percent among students from diverse racial/ethnic groups.

As indicated above, the profile of Penn State students will change considerably over the next planning cycle and beyond. Changes will reflect national trends and include demographic shifts, decreasing numbers of high school graduates, and increasingly prevalent characteristics of the millennial generation. Given these shifts, the range of student characteristics and student needs will be broad and include a wide range of academic preparation. Capacity for individuation and customization will be key to addressing student needs and ensuring high rates of student retention and success. Changes in the federal IPEDS requirements for gathering and reporting demographic data will also have an impact. These shifts represent an important opportunity to strengthen our infrastructure and resources to better meet the needs of a dynamic and diverse student body.

Beyond achieving demographic diversity, we must emphasize support structures for student success and for building the capacities of all of our students. For some students, particularly low-income, first-generation students, we should contribute to building their academic abilities in their precollege years to help them prepare to become successful in higher education. Programs such as Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science, which are hosted by Penn State, and a few Penn State programs offered through various colleges, most notably STEM fields, focus on this task, but more work needs to be done across multiple units to address this need.

Once enrolled at Penn State, many student populations such as low-income, first-generation; international; adult learners; students with disabilities; and students who come to the University less prepared to meet the academic demands of college, all benefit from additional support structures to ensure student success and timely graduation. Critical transitions such as the first year, change of campus, and entering graduate studies place more demands on students and the resources that support their success. Offices and programs such as the Multicultural Resource Center, Student Support Services, Office for Disability Services, University Office of Global Programs, and others address these needs for the students they serve, and much more must be done within each College. We must be attuned to the needs of students who, with some additional support, can develop the social and cultural capital necessary for success and leadership in today's global world.22

The most daunting barrier to this Challenge is the rising cost of tuition (as well as fees, books, housing, food, and all costs associated with college attendance), a situation exacerbated by declining state appropriations. Especially within an era of economic downturn, college costs are obviously a major barrier for low-income students and those whose families may have moderate levels of income but not significant assets to comfortably support their children's education, a situation now encountered more often than ever.23 Some emphasis has been placed on establishing scholarships for these groups, and this trend must continue. The Brook J. Lenfest Scholarship Program reaches students from selected Philadelphia public high schools to provide, in combination with other student aid programs, full support for tuition, fees, room, and meals. Educational Equity administers scholarships that support approximately thirty low-income, first-generation students. Ten scholarships have been established to target students with disabilities at any Penn State campus. The recently established Osher Reentry Scholarship Program benefits adult learners throughout the Penn State system. The U.S. Department of Education CCAMPIS grants have funded child care access for many Penn State students in recent years. The Renaissance Fund, created in 1969, continues to provide scholarship support to "the brightest of the neediest" students. Additionally, Penn State's Board of Trustees recently established the Trustee Matching Scholarship Program for low-income students. To date, more than 4,000 students have received Trustee Scholarship funds, with a significant percentage being students of color and/or those who are the first generation in their family to attend college. The median grade-point average for Trustee Scholars is 3.27. The current For the Future development campaign, which focuses on philanthropy to support student scholarships, seeks to help alleviate the amount of debt that many students must incur for a Penn State education.

Penn State's emphasis on need-based aid admirably counters the national trend toward "merit-based aid," which tends to support those who have been educationally advantaged throughout their lives; it also shifts some of that support to needy high-achieving students who would not otherwise have the financial means to attend Penn State. Emphasis on need-based aid also aligns with our land-grant mission and enacts the imperative to maintain institutional competitiveness by educating those who have traditionally not had access. As stated by Vice Provost Terrell Jones, many of these students "redefine what merit is." Additional support and structures for monitoring and addressing issues of retention and appropriate progress toward a degree are particularly necessary for ensuring the success of low-income students. Efforts to create an inclusive environment and build our capacity to provide the educational benefits of diversity to all include international students and the need to make international experiences available to all students. Internationalization is an area of emphasis for the University, and in support of these goals the University Office of Global Programs administers both International Student Services and Education Abroad and provides opportunities for international and domestic students to interact in social and co-curricular venues.

While Penn State tends to rank among the top ten institutions in the United States in the number of Ph.D.'s awarded, the numbers are not as positive for underrepresented/underserved students. One intervention undertaken by the Graduate School is participation in Phase II of the Ph.D. Completion Project, sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools. This project aims to strengthen pipelines into graduate study at Penn State for targeted groups of students, and to increase retention and reduce time to graduation. The Graduate School also houses the Ronald C. McNair Program, which facilitates the transition of talented undergraduate students into graduate study, and hosts an annual McNair conference drawing upward of 400 participants each year. Penn State also participates in the Summer Research Opportunities Program through the Committee for Institutional Cooperation, hosting a number of potential graduate students in a summer research project with participating faculty. Recently introduced policies facilitating parental leave for graduate assistants and postdoctoral fellows are aimed at improving retention rates, particularly for women.

Targeted Areas for Improvement:

  • Assist students from underrepresented/underserved populations in gaining access to higher education and developing their academic, co-curricular, and societal skills for success.
  • Increase commitment to need-based aid and other means of support for low-income students to alleviate debt incurred while at Penn State.
  • Increase commitment to retention and student support to ensure student success, appropriate progress toward degree, and timely graduation.
  • Identify and address intergroup disparities between underrepresented/underserved student populations and the general student body in areas such as retention rates, graduation rates, and other indicators.
  • Support initiatives to augment the internationalization of Penn State, including study abroad opportunities for domestic students; academic, co-curricular, and social support systems for international students; and efforts to utilize international students and faculty to enhance international exposure and interaction for domestic students.

Challenge 4: Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce

Over the next decade, Penn State, like other institutions, will face the impending increase in retirements among the baby boom generation,24 and we face losing many long-standing faculty, staff, and administrators. This reality presents great opportunity if approached strategically. We must engage in succession planning to ensure the continuity of essential ongoing operations. Also, we must recognize the number of potential hiring opportunities that can enhance our institutional diversity over the next five years, thinking carefully of our longer-term disciplinary, curricular, and programmatic staffing needs rather than taking the shorter-term perspective of one-to-one replacement. We must also continue to improve the success of search processes in valuing diversity expertise and identifying and assessing the credentials of high-quality diverse applicants. Strategic hiring decisions can result in considerable progress in changing the profile of the faculty, staff, and administration over a five-year cycle. It should be noted that changes in the federal IPEDS requirements for gathering and reporting demographic data will also refine our demographic profile.

Hiring and retaining diverse staff and technical-service employees remains a critical element to realization of Framework goals. Barriers include the bidding system and demographics of various geographic regions among Penn State campuses. However, it has been noted that campuses in more diverse geographic regions have not achieved significantly better results than campuses in more homogenous regions. In response to the need for more diversity-friendly hiring practices, the Office of Human Resources has launched Hire Power, which is now being utilized by a number of units. Hire Power training emphasizes strategic hiring practices, identifying the necessary competencies for the job, and keeping staff hiring practices consistent and in alignment with Affirmative Action practices. The University has also recently joined the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC), a national organization that will facilitate Penn State's ability to attract talented, competitive, and diverse individuals from a nationwide pool. A related initiative is the Supplier Diversity Program, established to ensure that woman-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned, and HUBZone-certified businesses have full opportunity to compete for the University's business. Informational seminars are offered through the University and the state of Pennsylvania to increase participation. Through the Supplier Diversity Program, units can ensure that the University's diversity values are reflected in the community vendors with which they do business. While these initiatives are relatively new, we look forward to improvement in this area. We must also increase our retention efforts, both for faculty and for staff, to limit the revolving-door effect that substantially limits progress for this Challenge. Faculty and staff turnover rates must be analyzed for disparities, and we must gain a better understanding of why diverse faculty and staff leave. Beyond simple retention, we must strive to increase opportunities for professional growth and advancement among faculty and staff from underrepresented/underserved groups at all levels.

Issues of work-life balance are an important component in retention. Penn State has made great strides in recent decades in facilitating access to quality child care and establishing parental leave and modified duties policies that are well beyond those offered at most universities. Such efforts are crucial to attracting and retaining the growing numbers of faculty and staff who have ongoing dependent-care commitments. Dual-career management is also an area that offers potential for increasing our competitive advantage. In addition to serving as an attractive feature to candidates, dual-career support is a powerful retention incentive. Additionally, cluster hiring has been shown to be not only an effective strategy for increasing the diversity of faculty, but also an effective means of creating a sense of community that facilitates retention.

Many colleges and campuses now have mentoring programs for faculty, including some programs targeted to diverse faculty. The University's Senior Faculty Mentor continues to offer support for professional development and tenure and promotion for junior faculty from diverse racial/ethnic groups. Utilizing networks of successful senior faculty members throughout the regions of the Commonwealth has expanded the reach of the position. However, many units still have no systematic mechanism for identifying diverse staff members for professional development paths to expand and enhance skills. Also, few units, particularly among the colleges, have mentoring systems in place for staff. Centrally, the Commission for Women (CFW) offers a mentoring program that is often the benchmark for development of similar programs. The CFW also offers a Technical Service Workshop and a shadowing program, both aimed specifically at the professional development needs of technical-service employees. Recently, the Commission on Racial/Ethnic Diversity launched a mentoring program for staff of color, in partnership with the Office of Human Resources.

While centralized programs offering mentoring and professional development support to faculty and staff members from underrepresented/underserved groups are quality programs that make a positive difference, they can serve only a comparatively small number of individuals each year. Departments and units must also create such opportunities to develop skills and the knowledge base of both faculty and staff at all levels. Departments and units are also instrumental in ensuring that employees are welcomed and engaged within the Penn State community, which is a significant factor in retention and employment satisfaction, particularly for diverse faculty and staff. Without full participation at the department level, Penn State's goals for a diverse workforce cannot be effectively realized.

Appropriate evaluation of diversity within the evaluation and advancement process is increasingly necessary as the demographic profile of the student body and employee base shifts. Also, as we stress the need to educate students for today's diverse and global environment, we must also support all of our staff and faculty in increasing their capacity to navigate in a diverse academic environment. The Human Resources Development Center and the Affirmative Action Office offer diversity education and training opportunities that can be tailored for the needs of a particular unit. For staff, support of diversity is a performance criterion on the Staff Review and Development Plan. Supervisors and staff should develop action plans that build in diversity-related activities and professional development. For faculty, appropriate evaluation of diversity scholarship within the Promotion and Tenure (P) process remains a particular obstacle.25 Quality training for hiring and P committees would increase their capacity for recognizing the intersections of quality and diversity. The very nature of a research university calls for innovative approaches and intellectual diversity, especially in an era of rapid advancement, yet narrow assumptions of quality and traditional rubrics of evaluation often remain unchallenged.26

Targeted Areas for Improvement:

  • Approach hiring as an opportunity to augment the diversity profile of the unit and consider diversity expertise and credentials as an important job criterion.
  • Utilize the Affirmative Action Office and the Office of Human Resources to facilitate search and hiring processes that will attract talented and diverse pools for faculty and staff at all levels. Continue to develop professional networks, community connections, targeted advertising strategies, and other avenues that facilitate recruitment of diverse applicants.
  • Emphasize new approaches to evaluating the merit of diversity scholarship and research, encourage respect for intellectual diversity, and promote a holistic approach to scholarship that strikes an appropriate balance among research, teaching, and service within the faculty tenure and promotion process.
  • Emphasize the value of diversity expertise and diversity professional development within the staff annual review process. Provide avenues for professional growth and advancement opportunities for faculty and staff from diverse groups at all levels.
  • Establish and strengthen mentoring programs for diverse faculty and staff.
  • Ensure that employees, new hires, and job candidates are made aware of work-life benefits available, including leave policies, child care resources, and options for modified duties.
  • Monitor tenure success rates and turnover rates by cohort, gender, and ethnicity and take appropriate steps for improvement. - Monitor turbulence and turnover rates for staff by gender and ethnicity and take appropriate steps for improvement.


Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity
314 Old Main,
University Park, PA 16802
Phone: (814) 865-5906, Fax: (814) 865-3997