The future of higher education relies on the future of our current minorities

“It’s no surprise to anybody that the landscape of higher education is changing, ” says Steve H. Murdock, Professor of Sociology at Rice University, on the demography of classrooms. The American population is changing, growing, becoming more diverse, and indicative of an aging, and shrinking majority population.

The largest population growth in the nation is occurring in the South and West. In 2010, 60% of the population was in the South and West, not the Northeast and Midwest. The real change in population is not growth, but diversity.

“Our population does not look like the people in this room. We are entirely too non-Hispanic white as a group.”

Hispanic growth in Texas was the leading trend, especially in the 18 and under demographic. The rest of the nation has seen even greater diversification, with 2700 counties in the US (almost all of them) demonstrating growth in this population. In metropolitan centers, 54% of growth has been attributed to Hispanic populations. This growth drives not only metropolitan area growth but also suburban growth and growth in rural areas.

By 2050, non-whites are projected to outnumber whites in every age group but our oldest two demographics, according to Murdock.

George Bernard Shaw famously noted, “The mark of a truly educated man is to be moved deeply by statistics.” and as academics, these statistics should move us because they are dramatically related to socioeconomic status.

The divide in socioeconomic status between non-white populations and other populations is deep and pervasive. This is not good news. College matriculation does not reflect these growth patterns. The future of American education is tied to the success of our now minorities who, by 2050, will be the new majorities. Our role in academe must include a focus on the breadth and diversity of students that enter our classrooms.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) annual conference on General Education and Assessment was held at the New Orleans Marriott in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 23-25, 2012. I attended on behalf of Queens University of Charlotte with four faculty colleagues. Read all the articles on this conference here.

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