MINORITY REFLECTIONS IN THE IVORY TOWER

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Minorities are now the majority in colleges & universities in three states in the US.  California, New Mexico and Hawaii now report over 50% of their college-enrolled students are from minority groups.  Minority college students in both California and New Mexico account for 57% of all college students; while Hawaii reported a whopping 69% of their college students are minorities.  And Texas hovers just shy of the majority mark at 49%.  The national average is 34%.  A report by the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, underscores this continuing trend in the population shift in higher education student enrollment.

In California, having 57% of all college students from minority groups very much mirrors the composition of the state.  The U.S. Census of 2010 reported that 60% of the California state population was from minority groups.  Californians can be proud of this statistic as important benchmark of the close relationship between the general population and the college-enrolled students.

While minorities are taking their place in colleges around the country, they are not assuming faculty positions in the same institutions.  So the face of college students has changed in many states, the face of the professors teaching them has not.  College professors in the U.S. remained overwhelmingly white.  A staggering 77% of college professors in the U.S. are white; leaving only 23% minority professors (Chronicle, 2011).  This isn’t as large a concern in those states in America with smaller minority populations in college.  For example Vermont, Maine, Utah and Kansas all report over 80% of their college students are white.  So the national average of 77% white faculty/professors reflects well on their faculty-student profile.

In Orange County, for example, there exists a huge disconnect between the professors teaching and the college students they teach.  University of California, Irvine (UCI) reported in 2011 that 69% of students were from minority groups while only 28% of their faculty is minority.  A closer look at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) also revealed the staggering gap between those behind the podium and those seated in front of it.  At CSUF, 60% of enrolled students are minorities; while only 29% of the faculty wa minority.  Even more stunning that CSUF reports over 40% of CSUF’s incoming freshmen are Hispanic (31% college-wide); while only 5% of the faculty are Hispanic.

Around the country, and specifically in states serving high minority student populations, some colleges are choosing to reinvent themselves to better reflect the minority students they serve, and their geographic populations as well.  A remarkable example of successful commitment to minority faculty recruitment and retention is the University of Texas-El Paso.  UT maintains a strong minority professorate to serve their growing Hispanic student population.

An important key to finding and retaining talented minority professors is a sincere commitment by a college to reflect their student population.   The good news is the National Science Foundation found that the number of earn doctorates by members of racial/ethnic minority groups continues to grow faster than those earned doctorates by white recipients.  This means the talent pool of minority faculty exists for those colleges truly interested in having their professorate reflect the student population & community they are serving.

For California and for Orange County, the challenge to serve the new ‘majority’ of minority college students is here and now.  And the new ‘majority’ will be looking to the future to see their own reflection in the ‘ivory tower’ of their college.

[Linda C. Orozco, Ph.D. is a recently retired full professor in educational leadership from California State University, Fullerton; with over 35 years of experience in educational administration.  Her research includes international leadership; technology in education; and educational demographics.]

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