Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Number 4

Diversity Digest
Volume 7,
Number 4

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Learning Through Evaluation: The James Irvine Foundation Campus Diversity Initiative (CDI) Project
James Irvine Foundation’s Campus Diversity Initiative
Diversity Climate Surveys:
Worth the Effort
Unleashing the Power of Metaphor: Pepperdine University
Implications of Prop 54
Faculty Involvement
Enhancing Diversity: University of Southern California
More than Bittersweet Success: University of the Pacific
Curricular Transformation
Institutionalizing Diversity: Occidental College
Educating for a Just Society: University of San Francisco
Making Diversity News
Media Watch
Teaching Students Media Skills
AAC&U Evaluation Resources
Irvine CDI Evaluation Resources
DATA: Capturing Hopes

DATA: Capturing the Hopes, Dreams, and Fears of Campus Diversity Initiatives

By José F. Moreno, postdoctoral fellow, Claremont Graduate School, and research analyst, Irvine CDI Evaluation Project

It is not unusual in higher education to present enrollment data disaggregated by race/ethnicity. These data demonstrate who enrolls and whether enrollees reflect the nation’s demography and goals for equitable access to higher education. Unfortunately, such presentations are usually confined to simple enrollment data with limited exploration of students’ campus-based experiences and outcomes. Indeed, where these enrollment data provide some numerical evidence of a diverse campus, there is usually an assumption that there is an institutional commitment to achieving equitable access for those traditionally underrepresented. Such is the power of data in shaping the perceptions of progress regarding diversity in higher education.
Our work in the Campus Diversity Initiative (CDI) Evaluation Project, however, has taught us that simply reviewing data devoid of an evaluative context may both mask large inequities and minimize important institutional gains to which diversity efforts contribute. If data are not collected and analyzed for the purpose of evaluating programs in light of institutional goals, then the powerful tool of data can easily become little more than campus propaganda. A major goal of the CDI Evaluation Project is for campuses to develop evaluation capacity to improve their programs, practices, and policies relative to institutional goals for diversity—what we refer to as organizational learning.

Senior administrators’ first question is often, “What do you need those data for?” Our response is that they need the data if they are to reach their institutional goals. We explain that the purposes of data in the context of institutional learning are to test assumptions, identify gaps in knowledge, initiate and guide dialogue, and provide direction for improvement. While the question initially may be prompted by fears that data could be misused, when campus constituencies understand these larger purposes, data becomes a powerful tool.

The type of data to be collected also creates anxieties about capacity and management. We have observed from working with the 28 CDI grantee campuses that the most useful data often already exists on campuses. Often referred to as “routine data” (Bauman & Bensimon 2002), this information is usually shelved away in reports produced by institutional research offices, strategic planning exercises, or past diversity reports. These data are often in the form of campus surveys, departmental reviews, and enrollment reports. When disaggregated by race/ethnicity and other important dimensions, such routine data can provide tremendous learning opportunities for individual offices and the institution overall, especially when placed in the context of evaluation for the purpose of organizational learning.

For example, choosing to improve the campus climate as it relates to diversity as one of its CDI efforts, one campus analyzed existing student survey data to determine the strategies it would use. The results showed that a higher proportion of students who participated in cultural awareness workshops reported greater levels of satisfaction with the campus climate for minority students. This data analysis led to the immediate conclusion that an expansion of cultural awareness workshops was a good strategy.

When survey responses were disaggregated by race/ethnicity, a different picture emerged. African American and Asian American students who participated in cultural awareness workshops reported lower levels of satisfaction with the campus climate for minorities than those who did not participate in those workshops.

However, when survey responses were disaggregated by race/ethnicity, a different picture emerged. African American and Asian American students who participated in cultural awareness workshops reported lower levels of satisfaction with the campus climate for minorities than those who did not participate in those workshops. In addition, Asian Americans as a group reported the highest level of satisfaction with the campus climate for minorities. While White students’ level of satisfaction appeared to be the lowest among all groups, closer examination of the data showed that this was an effect of over 40 percent of White students having responded “not relevant” to the satisfaction question, whereas this response was less than 5 percent for all other groups. These findings suggest that careful consideration be given to how varied groups experience these types of programs, and whether the program content addresses their needs and concerns. Disaggregated institutional data can suggest exciting prospects for overcoming the marginality experienced by some groups on campus.

The emphasis on data collection and utilization has provided important learning opportunities for some campuses that look to higher education research to inform their practice. For example, the general consensus in the retention literature is that the first year is a critical stage for campus retention efforts. Based on the literature, if students survive the first year and enroll for their second year, their chances of graduating greatly increase. As part of the evaluation process, campuses submit year-to-year persistence data disaggregated by race/ethnicity with four and six-year graduation rates. As we analyzed the data of one campus, we noticed an interesting, but disturbing trend. The attrition for Latino/a and African American students was not occurring solely at the points where the literature suggests. Even though their first-year persistence rates were similar to the overall campus rate of 80%, a higher proportion of Latino/a and African American students tended to leave after their 2nd and 3rd years respectively as compared to their Asian American and White counterparts (Figure Below). However, for American Indian students the point of attrition was still the first year. Knowing this has allowed campus officials and program directors to reconsider some of their strategies and to explore further reasons for this situation.

In addition, data can inform a campus of its mixture of success and failure. While a campus may have been successful in making sure that Latino/a and African American students survive that critical first year, by not developing a more comprehensive view of retention, they may have missed a critical attrition point in later years for Latino/a and African American students. Additionally, by fully disaggregating the data by racial/ethnic groups on campus, officials can determine the attrition points for Asian American and White students for whom there might have been less concern about their points of attrition, given their relatively higher graduation rates. By having this disaggregated data, a campus can further develop programs and practices that are campus specific and data informed.

There are other reasons that campuses may not use existing data. One reason is that campuses do not have a position designated as institutional researcher. However, most campuses have talented and skilled researchers on their faculty or staff whose expertise could be tapped to analyze data for institutional learning. Fear of losing control over the data or inciting conflict on campus is another reason campuses fail to collect, analyze, and disseminate institutional data. But, by failing to do so, campuses run the risk of ignoring effective diversity strategies and not learning from their failures and successes.


Bauman, G. L. & E. M. Bensimon. 2002. The Promotion of organizational learning through the use of routine data. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. November 22. Sacramento, CA.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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