News Column

2009 Top Schools for Diversity

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Undoubtedly, 2009 will go down as a year of major diversity triumphs.
The first African-American president took office and Sonia Sotamayor has become the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

In an era when diversity has emerged as a top priority nationwide, leading universities are educating and preparing the next generation of multi-cultural and multi-ethnic leaders in all walks of life.

In that context, HispanTelligence, the research arm of HispanicBusiness Magazine, assessed the diversity records of top graduate schools in the areas of keen interest to Hispanics: Engineering, Medicine, Law and Business.

Instead of looking at diversity as a federal requirement, these schools embrace it as a means of educational enrichment. Using factors such as enrollment and percentage of degrees earned by Hispanics, the numbers show that Hispanics are steadily making educational strides, while universities are also doing more outreach to them.

Of the top 40 graduate schools for Hispanics, 30 hailed from Texas, Florida, California, and New Mexico. Texas and Florida had the most, each possessing 10 of the most diverse graduate programs in the nation. No schools from the Northwestern U.S. made the list.

"Our population is soon to be majority minority," said Felicia Benton-Johnson, the director of Diversity at the Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Engineering, the No. 1 engineering school on the HispanicBusiness Magazine list. "As diversity nationally increases, so will the need to have leaders and professionals who reflect this same burgeoning diversity."

Still, much work remains to be done.

Graduate School Obstacles

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13 percent of Hispanics over the age of 25 complete four years of college or more. Of that number, only 3.6 percent go on to receive a masters, professional or doctoral degree. These are the lowest statistics of all ethnic groups, according to Census data.

Many factors contribute to the gap. First-generation Hispanic youth are the worst off educationally. Their drop-out rate from grade school is the highest, and too often grow up feeling an obligation to pay back their families and communities by immediately jumping into the workforce.

Many factors make recruiting minorities a difficult task, but the economic one is certainly a key factor. It requires a multi-pronged strategy; each of the No. 1 universities in the four disciplines has developed their own recruiting methodologies to obtain and maintain their institution's diversity enrollment goals.

Stanford University

The Stanford University School of Medicine ranked No. 1 on HispanicBusiness Magazine's list of top medical schools for diversity. Hannah Valantine, the senior associate dean of Diversity and Leadership at the university, said summer programs, camps, and internships offered to undergraduates and high school students have been instrumental in Stanford's ability to reach minorities.

The medical school has had a difficult time attracting minorities, notably into its residency program. Summer research internships, Ms. Valantine said, and programs for both high school and undergraduate students work the best to create interest in higher education at Stanford and builds student-faculty relationships through one-on-one interaction.

"Diversity is an issue that goes beyond equal opportunity," said Ms. Valantine. "It is about how we maintain our university." Minority patients feel more comfortable when their resident physicians are of diverse backgrounds, a factor that further motivates the school to bolster its diversity.

University of New Mexico

The University New Mexico School of Law performs virtually no specialized minority recruitment. Instead, diversity at this year's No. 1 law school for Hispanics has developed organically from surrounding communities. For the last 30 years the school has maintained around a 25 percent Hispanic student population. From that has emerged a strong alumni base that acts as the institution's voice to attract minority applicants. Recruitment strategies and advertising are not as necessary

"You need a [diversity] policy to change the behavior of people. You don't have to have a policy when the commitment runs so deep," said Kevin Washburn, dean for the School of Law.

Mr. Washburn mentioned New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Petra Jimenez Maes and former New Mexico attorney general Patricia Madrid to illustrate the "superstar alumnus" who are "walking advertisements" for the diversity of the law school.

The sheer number of Hispanics living in New Mexico has given the institution another boost. About 4 out of 10 residents are Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data, which clearly impacts the law school's diversity record.

Georgia Institute of Technology

For the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Engineering, obtaining a diverse campus has been something that has taken decades and still requires constant effort. The school, which ranked most diverse on HispanicBusiness Magazine's list of top Engineering schools, has created a web of involvement that encourages participation at every level. K-12 students, undergraduates, grad students, prospective students, campus offices, groups, faculty, alumni, and even parents are active participants in the diversity recruiting process.

The university spends little money on advertising and instead relies almost entirely on the personal connections made through summer educational programs, mentoring, and internships, Ms. Benton-Johnson said.

"We are really trying to cultivate a true and lasting relationship," said Ms. Benton-Johnson, who noted that once these relationships have been formed, the university stays in very close contact, especially with K-12 students through email, Facebook, and even personal phone calls. "We create a pipeline by touching lives through engineering."

University of Texas

Within the University of Texas at San Antonio College of Business, creating a diverse faculty and student body is a highly methodical, almost fastidious process. The top-ranked MBA program's strategy starts with a recruitment plan that focuses on advertising to small schools in South Texas, where the population is largely Hispanic.

"We literally sit down and say what are we doing this semester in terms of recruiting [minorities]," said Lynda De La Vina, the school's dean for the College of Business. "Things like [diversity] don't simply happen. They happen because you plan."

Wide Recruitment Efforts

Beyond recruitment of minority students, universities are finding that a diverse faculty can set the tone at the top.

Schools have discovered that it is crucial to recruit faculty that reflect the student body. Students sometimes feel more comfortable when they have faculty to whom they can relate.

"When [prospective students] look at the faculty and they don't see diversity in the faculty they say 'is this really the place for me?'" said Stanford's Valantine.

The "faculty act as models," added Ms. Benton-Johnson of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The University of Texas at San Antonio College of Business aims to recruit minority faculty members. The practice has helped to create a full-time faculty body composed of more than 20 percent Hispanics, 70 percent of whom are tenured.

The quest to hire minority faculty has become increasingly competitive. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics comprise less than 8 percent of professionals in each engineering, medicine, law and business.

School officials say finding candidates of any ethnicity, even white, is difficult, noting that demand for business school faculty is high and supply is low. But the University of Texas is committed to maintaining its diversity standings. "Even with a small pool of faculty to hire we track minority faculty," said De La Vina. "We've been competitive to get them."

Since Ms. Valantine's position was created at Stanford University School of Medicine in 2004 the college has added 20 more minorities to the staff. Ms. Valantine, however, said out of a total of 1,000 faculty members, that number is still too low.

No Resting on Laurels

Looking at 2010 and beyond, universities will continue to set high goals for diversity.

The University of New Mexico School of Law is building leaders who reflect New Mexico's own diversity. Stanford is looking to shape a student body whose diversity mirrors the global population.

But this push to include minority students, whether they are of different race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, is not only about creating fairness.

"A diverse educational climate makes education better for everyone," stated Mr. Washburn. "Everybody learns more when they're in a crucible, when they are in a diverse environment with diverse people."

Ms. Valantine agreed. "Ultimately the schools that are the most diverse will be the most successful."

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