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Racial Parity in US Colleges Is 70 Years Away, McKinsey Says

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- It will take almost a lifetime — or seven decades — for US colleges and universities to achieve racial parity among its freshman classes, according to analysis by McKinsey & Co.

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The study, which analyzed data from more than 3,000 institutions with enrollment of about 2.4 million first-time students, found that nearly all the improvement in representation in the seven years to 2020 came from Hispanic and Latino students. If their rate of enrollment slows to match the pace of other minority students — with enrollment among Black and Native American students declining in some cases — parity will never occur, according to Duwain Pinder, one of the McKinsey researchers.

“There is this perception that we’ve actually given advantages and made it easier for Black, Hispanic and Latino, and Native American students to get into highly-resourced colleges and universities, and if you’re not of those under-represented groups, you’re at a disadvantage,” Pinder said. “But that’s not true.”

It’s even worse for faculty — parity with the portion of the population with a bachelor’s degree is projected to be 300 years away, the McKinsey study showed. When compared with the broader population, parity is unlikely to be achieved until 1,000 years from now, according to the analysis.

The slow progress toward population parity among college students and faculty bodes ill for corporate America, where representation in leadership will ultimately draw from graduates of higher education. Women and people of color continue to trail White men in leadership roles as measured against the US population. And despite well-publicized initiatives, women hold a quarter of executive roles while the share of people of color in company leadership is often half their proportion in the broader population — or less.

The McKinsey study used the population of 18- to 24-year-olds in the attendance areas of the colleges and university to gauge the expected size of incoming student body.

By that measure, about 44% of non-profit institutions saw freshman enrollment that’s more diverse than its community, a modest improvement from 38% in 2013. The largest schools with the most resources are even further behind, with less than 10% exceeding their expected student population proportion, Pinder said.

Even when schools are able to attract a student body that’s as diverse as their communities, the graduation rate still trails that of the overall population. That suggests students of color are also disproportionately less likely to get a degree even when fully represented, the study found.

A remedy for college leaders will be to develop strategies that focus on increasing long-term diversity. One suggestion is to eliminate race- and wealth-based advantages such as legacy and donor admissions, as well as investing in their surrounding communities to give under-represented students a better chance at getting into college, the report said.

“Your aspiration needs to be at least where the population is,” Pinder said. “Universities will have broad strategies versus specific strategies. There’s only so much a broad strategy can do.”

(Updates to add more details on faculty parity in fourth paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the description of the study in second paragraph.)

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