The Accountability Side of Diversity
By Estela Mara Bensimon, Donald Polkinghorne,
Georgia Bauman, University of Southern California
Even though individuals are likely to agree that
equity is a desirable value, equity is not something
that is spoken about in relation to educational outcomes
for students. Institutions of higher education most
often do not produce annual reports on measures of equity
nor do they have equity-oriented benchmarks. An institution's
success (or failure) in reducing educational inequities
that severely restrict opportunity and upward mobility
for students of color is not used as a measure of institutional
effectiveness. Nor are institutions ranked or graded
on the basis of equity in educational outcomes.
With the exception of historically black institutions
and tribal colleges, intra-institutional stratification
based on race and ethnicity is a reality within most
higher education institutions, regardless of whether
they are predominantly white, open-access, or classified
as Hispanic Serving Institutions. However, the specificities
of this intra-institutional stratification are largely
invisible because equity in educational outcomes does
not constitute a metric of institutional performance
that is continuously tracked.
For example, institutions do not monitor whether minority
students are earning GPA's that will enable them
to go on to graduate school. The tracking of some measures
of institutional performance is a taken-for-granted
routine, e.g., the average SAT scores of each freshman
class. If an institution's leadership were to
be asked what percentage of African-American or Latino
students graduate with a 3.5 GPA, most would need to
run the numbers before being able to answer. Institutions
are not in the habit of tracking whether the educational
outcomes for African-American and Latino students, such
as GPA, are improving or declining. As an institutional
researcher pointed out to us, "When people ask
me for data, they do not ask me about the high GPA minority
In this article we describe the Diversity Scorecard
project, a process of developing awareness of inequities
in educational outcomes that we developed in partnership
with fourteen urban colleges in Southern California
and with the support of The James Irvine Foundation.
Diversity Scorecard Project
The Diversity Scorecard was developed as a response
to the fact that the "diversity agenda"
has been primarily about access to predominantly white
institutions. Yet in California, as in many other states,
urban colleges, private and public, two- and four-year,
have served as the main entry point into higher education
for students of color. For institutions like California
State University at Los Angeles, Whittier College, and
Los Angeles City College--all institutions that
are part of our project--the challenge is not how
to become more diverse. The challenge for these colleges
is how to translate diversity in the student body into
equity in educational outcomes.
The core principle of the Diversity Scorecard is that
evidence (i.e., factual data) about the state of equity
in educational outcomes for African Americans and Latinos
can have a powerful effect on increasing the recognition
by faculty members, administrators, counselors, and
others about the existence of inequities as well as
their motivation to resolve them. That is, in order
to bring about institutional change, individuals have
to see, on their own, as clearly as possible, the magnitude
of inequities, rather than having researchers, like
us, tell them that they exist.
To start the project, we invited the presidents of
the fourteen colleges1 to appoint a team of individuals
to work with us on the development of their institution's
scorecard. The task of each team was to examine data
disaggregated by race and ethnicity that would reflect
educational outcomes in four general areas: access,
retention, excellence, and institutional receptivity.
The Diversity Scorecard
Each team decided what types of data they would examine,
and, based on their analyses, each team identified unequal
outcomes for particular groups of students. The next
step was to create the actual scorecard, which entailed
selecting goals, measures, and benchmarks where unequal
outcomes had been uncovered in each of the four general
areas. The last step was presenting the completed scorecard
in a report to the president.
Initially, some of the participants were skeptical about
the project. However, after two years, the majority
of participants feel that the process has been fruitful.
One participant shared:
At first I was very skeptical about this project.
However I have found the approaches to data very useful.
This push to look at data is spilling over to other
areas such as curricular issues. Doing this project
I've found many ways of thinking about data.
Breaking data down by race and ethnicity has provided
many "aha" moments. Upon seeing remediation
rates disaggregated by race and ethnicity a member of
one institution said:
This is the first time that I'm aware of
that anyone is looking at this problem by ethnicity
and to this level of detail. [Now that it has been
disaggregated] we can look more deeply and systematically
at remediation rather than just the split between
English and math. This is central on everyone's
mind. We can really raise conversation around this.
Thus, through simply disaggregating existing data on
basic indicators of student outcomes, our partner institutions
have been able to locate very specifically the most
critical gaps in the academic performance of African
American and Latino students. The combined effort of
the institutions resulted in the development of fifty-eight
(available at www.usc.edu/dept/education/CUE/projects/ds/diversityscorecard
.html). The following provides one example from each
of the four perspectives.
- Access Perspective
Example: The percentage of African Americans and Latino
students who succeed in "gateway" courses.
Gateway courses are those courses that serve as points
of entry for particular majors (e.g., particular math
courses serve as pre-requisites for engineering and
- Retention Perspective
Example: The percentage of target group students who
complete courses in which they enroll within a term.
Example: The average grade point average of Latino
and African-American students, by college/major at
the point of graduation.
Institutional Receptivity Perspective
Example: The percentage of African-American, Latino,
and Asian-American faculty in each college/department
compared with the percentage of students from these
ethnic/racial groups in each college/department (i.e.,
the percentage of African-American faculty in the
College of Arts and Sciences compared to the percentage
of African-American students in that college).
We believe that the disaggregation of data on educational
outcomes by race and ethnicity and the determination
of equity standards are evidence-based practices that
will make individuals more conscious of the state of
educational outcomes for historically underserved students
and will enable them to act purposefully.
Our partners suspected that there were problems, but
many relied heavily on anecdotal data, both to describe
the problem and, in some cases, to justify why it is
practically unsolvable. With very few exceptions, most
institutions in the project lacked a disciplined and
evidence--based approach to understanding educational
outcomes and the dimensions and the extent of the equity
We are continuing our work with the fourteen Diversity
Scorecard institutions and have two overarching goals.
First, we hope to raise awareness at each institution
more broadly around the issues identified on each team's
scorecard in order bring about change. Second, we will
work to institutionalize the use of data disaggregated
by race and ethnicity so it becomes a routine practice
and disparities in outcomes by race and ethnicity become
more readily recognized. Of course, we also hope that
our partners will continue to analyze and discuss institutional
data in a way that will continue to bring about new
1 The fourteen Diversity Scorecard
project institutions include: California State University
Los Angeles, California State University-Dominguez Hills,
California State University- Fullerton, Los Angeles
City College, Los Angeles Valley College, Cerritos College,
Santa Monica College, Riverside Community College, Whittier
College, University of Redlands, University of La Verne,
Occidental College, Loyola Marymount University, and
Mount St. Mary's College.