University Ethnic and Economic Diversity vs. Regional Factors


My colleague Max Cavitch (who also writes at Stressing English), recently sent me a link to the US News and World Report rankings of universities based on ethnic and economic diversity. There are lots of interesting details in the lists, and I thought I might try to look at what factors are most significant in shaping a school’s diversity — whether the regional economic and ethnic diversity of the state, or some other factors, like school endowments. I pulled state economic and ethnic data from the 2009 and 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, and endowment information from the National Association of College and Business Officers.

First, the economic data:

There’s nothing shocking here: the higher the % poverty in a state, and the lower the median household income, the higher the economic diversity of the university. Conversely, the higher the rank of the school (Harvard being the highest with a rank of “1”), the lower the economic diversity.

Things are a little more interesting when it comes to ethnic diversity:

Unsurprisingly, the ethnic diversity of a school is strongly correlated to the percent of minorities within that state. This is particularly interesting, given the they aren’t the same measure. U.S. News and World Report’s diversity ranking measures how diverse a school is rather than how large a share of minorities there are. For this reason, Howard University is ranked as the lease diverse school. More striking is the observation that, as the median household income of a state goes up, the ethnic diversity of its schools rises, too. And, as we might expect, the ethnic diversity of a school correlates with the size of the school’s endowment — in contrast to economic diversity, which drops.

Finally, I thought I’d see how the University of Pennsylvania, where I currently teach, stacks up (Penn is the red square):

What this says is that UPenn is over-performing in attracting minority students, but underperforming in producing economic diversity on campus, relative to the baseline correlation across all schools. At the same time, relative to its peers in the top five percent of school endowments, Penn seems to be doing worse at attracting minority students, but about average (and a very low average) in producing economic diversity.

In terms of the ongoing debate in this country about the increasingly disparate distribution of wealth, these charts really give me pause. This cuts to the core of the 99% argument that Occupy Wall Street and others (like our own Occupy Philly) are making. Elite universities continue to contribute to the economic self-selection of elites. At the same time, from a structural point of view, the rapid increase of both poverty and vast wealth is creating a series of political crises, and it seems clear to me that more could be done by schools with the resources to try and change things.

P.S.> I’d also note that economic diversity shows more deviation — which suggests that focused admissions policies would find it easier to address than ethnic diversity.