Photo by Baim Hanif on Unsplash

In a recent scandal, 50 people were charged with making or accepting bribes so that students who might not be qualified could gain admission to elite colleges.

Bribery is a crime but it is a minor problem compared with the fact that despite decades of government and higher education programs to increase ethnic and economic diversity on campus, a disparity in academic performance persists.

Up to 40% of low-income high school students who are admitted to a college don’t attend. Of those who enroll, only 14% graduate. The college dropout rate is highest among minority students and the enrollment rate is lowest among rural students.

As a consequence, college campuses and the businesses that hire college graduates lack diversity. The effects of low diversity are worse than the conspiracy between corrupt academic officials and wealthy parents from California to Connecticut.  

The Importance of Diversity

Colleges need diversity in campus demographics to provide students with the opportunity to encounter new ideas and viewpoints. It gives all students valuable learning opportunities and teaches them to find value in unfamiliar perspectives. Homogeneity in demographics can narrow students’ worldviews — the precise opposite of higher education’s mission — and limits their education.

That lack of diversity results in college graduates who are mostly white, mostly urban and mostly affluent — which also describes the candidate pool from which most businesses recruit.

Declining College Enrollment

College enrollment is down for the sixth year in a row. Eleven private schools have closed every year since 2015 and will most likely increase. An average of just one in three first-year students returned to school for their sophomore year between 2013 and 2016 and only about 40% of students who enroll in a college graduate.

To reverse this trend, many admissions departments are focusing on higher-income, out-of-state and transfer students which does nothing to create more diversity on campus or in recruitment pools for business.

Barriers to Entry

The challenge is that low-income and minority students have enormous barriers to college entry, mostly financial and social.

Students are wary of borrowing to finance their education most likely because according to a survey, only 34% of current students believe they’ll graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the job market.  

Then, there are personal problems some individuals face like long commutes, or inadequate high school preparation that make them feel college is like an expensive gamble with rules written by and for the privileged.

Strategic Solutions for Meaningful Results

Gallup’s quantitative and qualitative research on education can help colleges retain students as well as improve their lives during and after college.

For instance, the Strada-Gallup-Strada Alumni Study shows that graduates who have experienced caring instructors or mentors, who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams, tend to believe college was worth the cost.

Minority alumni with those experiences can become powerful advocates for the school as well, especially in diverse communities.

Businesses can and should lend a hand. Helping higher educational institutions   attract and retain a more diverse range of students until graduation will create a better-educated society — and a larger population of diverse, well-educated job candidates and higher-paid customers, too.

The Bigger Crime

Think about the bigger crime. While 50 people were charged with a crime, thousands — maybe millions — of kids are getting the idea that education is not for them.

Wealthy white kids are far more likely to graduate with a degree than other demographics because the barriers to entry that are insurmountably high for others are lower for them.

Colleges have fewer students from less diverse backgrounds, which results in a poorer educational environment. Businesses have fewer talented workers, which results in less innovative organizations. People have fewer opportunities to learn, grow and prepare for a productive life.