Survey: What college students really think about diversity

Student responses align with affirmative action

Regardless of their personal backgrounds, college students support campus demographic diversity, according to study results from two Dartmouth College professors. 

John Carey, a social science and government professor, and Yusaku Horiuchi, a Japanese studies and government professor, led a series of studies on their campus to determine what students think about making diversity a reality at school.

To do this, they surveyed two groups of students at Dartmouth—the first set comprised 501 students in October; another 607 completed the survey between December 2015 and January 2016.

The survey employed a "fully randomized conjoint analysis," essentially pairing candidates for faculty positions or undergraduate enrollment with various characteristics—such as race, gender identification, academic discipline, rank, teaching reputation, research record, and undergraduate and graduate degrees. Each characteristic was randomly assigned. The candidates were hypothetical, but participants were not aware of that.

Students then chose who should receive the "job" or "acceptance" from about six pairs of candidates.

"We can estimate whether, and how much, respondents care about hiring a black candidate rather than a white one, a Latino rather than an Asian American, an engineer rather than an economist, or a candidate with a degree from the University of Georgia rather than one from Yale [University]," write Carey and Horiuchi.

They found Dartmouth students broadly support increased faculty and student diversity, though the degree to which people wanted a more diverse faculty varied a bit by survey respondents' own characteristics. 

Measuring and promoting diversity on campus

For example, when all other qualifications and characteristics were equal, students preferred a Native American or African American applicant to a white applicant by about 15 percentage points. Similarly, they preferred a Latino or Hispanic applicants to a white applicant by about 7 percentage points. Other preferences included: a woman to a man; a low-income applicant to an affluent one; and a first-generation applicant to one whose parents attended college.

The professors also discovered a preference for high SAT scores, varsity athletes, and strong academic records.

When examined by cohorts—such as women, men, whites, and blacks—differences in these preferences were nearly statistically insignificant.

However, the groups did vary in faculty recruitment. While all cohorts valued recruiting underrepresented groups, the preference varied by respondents' demographics. 

Breakthrough advances in faculty diversity

Overall, when compared with a white candidate, students preferred an African American candidate by 12 percentage points, an American Indian or Hispanic candidate by 9 percentage points, and an Asian American by 5 percentage points.

Meanwhile, African American students preferred an African American faculty candidate to a white one by a full 51 percentage points.

Additionally, women valued diversity more than men did. 

View our resources on faculty diversity

"We are struck by the levels of agreement—or the lack of clear cleavages—for giving priority in admissions to applicants from traditionally underrepresented groups in a manner consistent with affirmative action programs already in place, and ratified by the Supreme Court's recent decision in Fisher v. University of Texas," write Carey and Horiuchi (Carey/Horiuchi, "Monkey Cage," Washington Post, 7/11). 


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