Luke Visconti, CEO: Crisis in Higher Education a Long Time Coming

Unchanged for 25 years — 93 percent white presidents: stale and out of touch.

Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 17 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.


 

Mass protests are occurring across the nation on college campuses. Non-majority students feel disenfranchised and underrepresented. Their perceptions are not incorrect.

Excluding minority serving institutions, 93 percent of university presidents are white — demographics that have not changed in 25 years. 84 percent of (full-time) professors are white. There is slightly more diversity among assistant and associate professors but much less among all professors at private schools in comparison to public schools.

The demographics of students, and of our nation, have changed dramatically: only 58 percent of college students are white (59 percent of high school graduates are white), and more than half of bachelor's degrees are earned by women.

From "Mexican bandit" themed parties at the University of Louisville president's house, to slow and tone deaf communications from the president of Mizzou (leading to his ouster), university leadership is being exposed as mostly being out of step, out of touch and of poor quality. Social media and the BLM movement have connected the dots, leading to nationwide unease and unrest from what used to be considered isolated incidents.

Demographics alone do not make a leadership body incompetent or out of touch, but in my combined 24 years of higher education board experience, including being invited to speak at two recent college board events and dozens of universities, I think most university diversity efforts are paternalistic, toothless, lacking in vigor — in essence, not taken seriously as a part of performance management.

You reap what you sow.

There are some bright spots, though. President Sue Henderson at New Jersey City University is implementing programs modeled after the amazing success at Georgia Tech, where they closed the gap between white and nonwhite graduation rates through timely mentoring, attention to the whole student body and real-time academic advice. The Rutgers Future Scholars program continues its astonishing success in shepherding eighth graders through high school and into/through college, achieving dramatically improved results over peer groups not in the program — with 1,600 students in the pipeline.

Talent is a leaky bucket. You may be very proud of your current corporate culture, and in the case of DiversityInc Top 10 companies, it is demonstrably better than the Top 50 and an order of magnitude better than the Fortune 500. The problem, especially for the best companies, is that you're hiring from a talent pool that is not well prepared. In the case of schools like SUNY Plattsburgh and University of Louisville, the student body is dramatically less diverse than the state, and a xenophobic, anti-intellectual attitude prevails on campus. You should be very careful about hiring students from the hundreds of mediocre campuses — and some isolated "elite" Ivy and almost-Ivy schools, which have vestigial programs to introduce their privileged students to the real world and have cynically small social service efforts. The students at these schools are shortchanged by their institutions and not ready to work in a diverse workforce and a global marketplace.

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