Why Political Science Can and Should Lead Diversity Efforts in Higher Education

Diversity is big business in the academy. Foundations such as Ford, Carnegie, and Robert Wood Johnson support academic efforts to diversify the professoriate; and colleges and universities across the country are investing significant resources in diversity efforts. Furthermore, the academy has begun hiring chief diversity officers, following corporate sector trends — 60% of Fortune 500 companies have chief diversity officers among their top-executives.

Although the numbers of women in political science have shown modest growth over the last two decades, the number of women of color in the field has largely remained flat. Political science scholarship on minority representation in U.S. legislatures sheds light on this professional conundrum, too. This literature shows how organized women, racial and ethnic minorities, and their allies can promote diversity and inclusive practices to bring about lasting change in political science, other disciplines and higher education more broadly.

An Opportune Moment for Political Science

Research on social movements shows that, when windows of opportunity arise, activists must have the resources to change the status quo and push for policy breakthroughs. I suggest that heightened attention to institutional diversity across academia presents an opportunity that political scientists can and should seize by presenting themselves as credible stakeholders who are well-equipped to: steward institutions’ newly available resources, run innovative pilot programs, and produce returns on institutional diversity investments for both students and faculty.

Student demands will be a key resource in these efforts, but administrators can often “wait students out” — stalling student diversity efforts until a new cohort must begin afresh. Political Science is uniquely positioned to lead institutional change by using research from the discipline to encourage student activists to investigate the issues, formulate long- and short-term goals, determine the scope of their influence, identify allies and opponents, construct informed arguments, and make specific demands with measurable outcomes. This informed activism can help students leverage their status over time as students, alumni, and donors to move towards shared goals for departmental, disciplinary, and institutional change.

Political Science is attracting many undergraduate women majors. Women are faring as well as men on the discipline’s job market. They are approaching pay equity with male colleagues and increasing their presence in the ranks of full professors. In 2010, women of color comprised 13.5% of female political science faculty, more than double their share in 1980. Although this improvement remains relatively modest compared to the nearly 300% increase in women faculty over that span, the progress for women of color is promising and can act as a foundation for future diversity efforts. Nevertheless, many challenges must still be addressed — including burdens of balancing tenure-track and family responsibilities, “inhospitable” institutional climates, and research norms that discount women’s contributions to collaborative work.

Building a Diversity Infrastructure

Sheer numbers are the first requirement for building diversity infrastructure. With sufficient numbers, members of gender and racial caucuses can promote further change and build organizational capacities. Research on the impact of diversity in Congress shows that the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American caucuses encourage information and resource sharing, enhanced communication, and collective action on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities. Through caucuses, task forces, and organized voting blocs, minority legislators have kept low-salience civil rights issues on the congressional agenda despite waning public interest. Women’s and racial and ethnic caucuses in national and regional political science associations show that female political scientists can capitalize on their numbers to act as disruptive-insiders to further diversify faculties and challenge discrimination.

Buy-in from political science department heads who name search committees and from faculty making influential recommendations will be indispensable for furthering these efforts. Departmental objectives can be linked to university diversity efforts. Male faculty members should be encouraged to serve on diversity committees and act as change agents.

Thinking beyond individual departments, women’s caucuses and ethnic caucuses in political science associations could share resources and knowledge and coordinate agendas. If increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the discipline is to be achieved, then women’s caucuses will need to work closely with race and ethnic caucuses in the discipline. Although universal sisterhood may be a worthy ideal, faculty women of color cannot be cast as handmaidens rather than full partners in the work of transforming the discipline.

Mentorship is Not Enough

The number of women of color entering political science faculties has stagnated, and many minority faculty members leave political science departments for more hospitable interdisciplinary centers. Recruitment and retention should therefore be top priorities — and that is going to take more than just mentoring programs.

Mentorship is a common answer to the challenge of recruiting, supporting, and retaining minority faculty. Mentoring, however, only teaches people how to survive in institutions. It does not necessarily attract more people to enter institutions, and it does not help them change institutions. Although the very presence of black women on academic faculties and in front of classrooms changes the academy, that is not enough. Despite widely shared good intentions, the discipline cannot rely on mentoring alone to help women of color overcome racism, sexism, and other systematic obstacles to their advancement. At best, mentoring will help women faculty of color expand their social networks, establish important professional relationships, and better navigate minefields. At worst, mentoring will help some individuals survive and advance, while maintaining longstanding power disparities in the discipline. Mentoring obviously cannot ameliorate the impediments that routinely challenge and undermine women of color at all ranks of the professoriate. Political science must lead the way in identifying and deploying all of the strategies that can bring broader progress in universities and disciplines.

Why State Spending on Higher Education May Not Improve the Economy in Many States

In recent years, the idea of tuition-free colleges and universities in the United States has made its way into mainstream political debates. In many ways, this idea makes good economic sense. Federal subsidies that help state governments eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public universities shift tax burdens to the federal government. This, in turn, levels burdens across states in both taxes and the cost of higher education.

However, federally subsidized free college tuition would risk worsening economic inequality among states. Although states should take steps to enlarge access to higher education, state investments in higher education must be accompanied by — or preceded by — policies to improve job opportunities and living standards in low-income states. Otherwise, only those states that are already ahead will reap the economic benefits of greater federal investments in higher education. Inequalities across states would get worse. This brief explains the contradictory imperatives at work.

Why Investing in Higher Education is Beneficial

Higher education is a good that society should provide on the basis of need rather than allocating only according to people’s ability or willingness to pay. This should not need to be justified on economic grounds. Although there are a number of good reasons for state governments to invest in higher education, some are economic while others cannot be reduced to fiscal considerations. Broader social benefits include lower crime rates, improved public health, and stronger familial and social relationships. Furthermore, in addition to providing such quality of life and societal benefits, higher education prepares students for active citizenship and community leadership.

Compelling economic benefits also come from investment in higher education. Such state spending increases human capital – the combination of knowledge, productivity, and creativity that produces economic value. This in turn improves state economies and productivity. Research shows that state economic performances rise with the proportion of residents holding bachelor’s degrees. And the stronger the state’s economy, the more it spends on higher education.

When Investing in Higher Education is Not Economically Beneficial

However, not all states enjoy the same benefits when they increase access to higher education. The economic returns from investment in higher education are not felt right away; they tend to take at least four years to show up. And long-term investments like those required for higher education are often harder to implement in low-budget states with lagging economies. Such states are doubly disadvantaged, because their less robust economies often offer poorer job prospects and living standards to graduates. Troubled economies are often on the losing end of the “brain drain,” in which many graduates from colleges in states with poor job markets move to other — usually more prosperous — states after graduation.

In the short term, state economies can benefit more from efforts to increase the number of college graduates who move into the state, or stay after graduation, than from policies that subsidize increased enrollments at in-state universities. Such enlarged enrollments will only improve a state’s economy if the number of new enrollees at in-state institutions far outweighs the number of graduates who leave the state, or if the graduates who remain become so productive that they more than compensate for those who leave.

Validating this logic, data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and the U.S. Census do reveal that states that spend more on higher education do attract and enroll more students in their colleges and universities, but do not necessarily enjoy the economic benefits of a well-educated workforce and general population. Regardless of spending on higher education, states with the most employment opportunities and highest expected earnings generally enjoy the greatest returns on human capital. No matter where people go to college, those “good jobs” states are the ones that will reap the economic benefits.

Implications for Investments in Higher Education

Although these findings are good news for already prosperous states, they do not bode well for states with lagging economies. These states are not only likely to miss the economic benefits of ramping up investments in higher education; their current investments likely benefit the already better-off states that attract their graduates. What is more, when states with lagging economies invest in higher education and cannot retain graduates or attract them from other states, they are often unable to attract other forms of private or public investments necessary to spur economic regeneration. In short, they cannot catch up.

There are, however, reforms that could alleviate economic burdens on poor states while still lowering financial barriers to higher education.

  • States with less robust economies can provide incentives for graduates to stay, such as programs that link tuition remissions to commitments to work in-state for some number of years. Other useful steps include housing incentives for graduates who remain and university-sponsored internships that pair undergraduates with possible future employers.

  • Instead of subsidizing enrollments, national-level subsidies could help low-income states invest in higher education and reduce the disparities of higher education costs and tax burdens across states. Moving the tax burden to the national level makes sense, given state-to-state migration of college graduates. State-funded higher education systems, however, offer protections against federal overreach about what gets taught at universities. Steps to shift the tax burden must also include protections for local and state educational control to ensure federal funding does not narrow the range of ideas deemed acceptable for debate and discussion on campus.

Few debate the value of higher education. Yet as policymakers work to reduce inequality across the country, they must be sure to craft policy solutions that truly keep poor states from falling further behind. By shifting investments in higher education to the national level and making greater efforts to reduce inequalities among states, policymakers can help ensure a more equitable future and a stronger democracy for the United States as a whole.

Examining White Privilege: What’s the Fear?

Dickinson student Leda Fisher asks the question “Should White Boys Still be Allowed to Talk?” in her opinion piece in the college’s daily news publication, The Dickinsonian.  Reportedly, Ms. Fisher indicates that she has received overwhelming support in response to her piece.  However, the backlash and negative comments have been swift and brutal, including calls for her expulsion.  The opinion piece has gone viral, which presents the opportunity to explore why her comments have pushed so many buttons.  Specifically, examining the role of higher education, exploring constructs related to power, and the impact of cumulative rage are issues for further consideration.

The Role of Higher Education

We expect colleges and universities to value freedom of speech, to support the development and expression of thought, and to expose students to new ideas.  However, these priorities come with challenges, including the challenge to listen while feeling uncomfortable. The evidence about white male dominance in the classroom and other life settings is clear.  Being silenced, mansplained, and not having room for diverse views are routine characteristics of school and work environments for women and people of color. It is unclear why Dickinson students would not be glad for the insight that Fisher provides about her experience, and appreciative for her courage in putting such a perspective out there. Further, as a woman of color at a majority white school, why would her vulnerability not be supported? Supporting vulnerability is also the role of students in higher education.

Power

Feminism, since its inception, has been acknowledging and understanding power.  Contemporary feminist theory speaks about the definition of power as “the capacity to produce change “ (Jean Baker Miller, 1991), and notes that power itself is not bad/wrong/evil.  In fact, there is an understanding that power is what helps us make decisions about our lives and move us forward. The distinction is made of the difference between “power over” which speaks to how one uses their power to impact themselves and others;  and the “power with” approach, where we can share in the capacity to produce individual, organizational, and collective change. “Power with” does not necessarily mean that you lose anything; it means that you gain the perspective and respect of others. As this understanding deepens, it promotes mutual benefit.

The question to those of us who are white is, can you sit quietly and really listen to the experience of someone else?  Can you share power? Just as being heard and having a voice is critical to healthy psychological development, the experience of not having a voice is also a critical experience in one’s life.  Suppressing your voice for a moment so that you can listen to another does not make you weak. It makes you vulnerable in the best possible way. It helps you to grow in your understanding of another person’s experience, and it gives you knowledge which will undoubtedly help you in future interactions with those similar and different from you.

Some of the response to the op-ed seem to focus on a perspective that Fisher is “being racist” for making generalizations about white boys, and that such generalizations are “just as bad” as the racism experienced by people of color. She has subsequently responded to this accusation with the prevailing definition of racism which speaks to systematic efforts to marginalize others based on race.

Yes, Ms. Fisher makes generalizations and it is understood that the generalizations do not apply to 100% of the white male population.  But she is naming a prevalent and universal experience a Why is it so difficult to see the position of power and privilege that white boys occupy?  I speak for myself, and not for Ms. Fisher, but it is understood that it is not your fault that you have such privilege.

It is understood that you did not ask for it, and you may not even be fully aware of it.  But you experience your privilege in most life situations. You may not even realize that there is another way to behave in the classroom that does not involve your constant contributions. Rather than defending yourself, why not take a moment for reflection and observation?  If you have privilege, you have a responsibility to understand that you have it and use it to ensure all voices are heard. This is your real power.

Rage

I suspect that part of the negative reaction may be related to the clearly articulated rage Ms. Fisher expresses in the opinion piece.  Women, and especially women of color, are not supposed to express anger, let alone rage. Again, what is the issue with listening? Awareness means knowing that the issue of women experiencing rage is occurring throughout the United States right now. There is a growing body of literature about it (ie “Good and Mad” by Rebecca Traister). The style and flavor of anger will unfold as it chooses. We may not like the way it sounds and the way it makes us feel. But we must listen.

Welcoming the contributions of students like Leda Fisher make all of us more aware, more attentive, and more self-reflective.  The journey of self-reflection is life-long, and being open to the sometimes painful but inevitable growth that comes with engaging in another person’s experience is one of the ultimate goals of higher education and beyond.

Link Between Divorce and Graduate Education a Concern as More Jobs Require Advanced Degree

Children of divorce are less likely to earn a four-year or graduate degree, according to new research from Iowa State University.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, is one of the first to look specifically at divorce and graduate education. Susan Stewart, professor of sociology, says it is important to understand this relationship as more jobs require a graduate or professional degree.

Stewart and co-authors Cassandra Dorius, assistant professor of human development and family studies; and Camron Devor, lead author and Iowa State alumna, found 27 percent of children with divorced parents had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 50 percent of those with married parents. The split was 12 percent versus 20 percent for those who had or were working toward a graduate or professional degree.

The researchers analyzed 15 years of data collected through the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. The survey followed thousands of youth as they transition from school to work in young adulthood. The last round of data used for this study was collected when youth were 26 to 32 years old.

The data allowed researchers to look at the influence of human (parental education and income) and social (parental social and emotional investment in children) capital. They found married parents were more educated than divorced parents, and there was a significant difference in income. Nearly half of the children with married parents were in the high income category (greater than $246,500/year) compared to 29 percent of children of divorced parents.

“After divorce, for both men and women, incomes take a hit. It takes much longer for that income to recover and for women especially, it never does,” Stewart said. “You are essentially starting over and much of the income that would have gone to a child’s education is sucked up with all the transitions that are part of divorce.”

Time for change?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring a master’s degree are expected to grow by nearly 17 percent between 2016 and 2026. This includes careers ranging from mental health counselors to librarians to elementary and secondary school administrators. Devor, who earned a master’s degree in sociology in 2014, says she wouldn’t have her job as a finance coordinator had she not gone to graduate school.

However, the findings were somewhat surprising to Devor based on her experience at Iowa State. She says several of her classmates in graduate school were children of divorce. Recognizing that this is not always the norm, Devor would like to see the research signal a change.

“This could affect divorce proceedings for child support and the amount that is factored in for college,” Devor said. “In most divorce proceedings, child support cuts off at 18. Just because a child turns 18, that does not mean they still do not need help financially from their family.”

Child’s age matters, to a degree

Children who were still at home or under age 18 when their parents divorced did not fare as well as children who were 18 and older. The research found the odds of those younger children earning a bachelor’s degree were 35 percent lower. However, there was no relationship between the child’s age at the time of divorce and the likelihood of getting a graduate or professional degree.

The researchers also found parents had similar educational expectations for their children, regardless of whether they were divorced or married. Parental expectations were positively associated with children earning a master’s degree. Dorius says children of divorce may feel less entitled to a college degree, so it should help them to know their parents have high educational aspirations for them. However, that encouragement is not enough to offset the relationship between divorce and graduate education.

“This suggests that parental divorce continues to have an effect on children’s graduate school success even after accounting for the encouragement parents give to their children,” Dorius said. “It’s important for future research to look at other inadequacies in social capital that may affect long-term educational success for these children.”

More Veterans Have Enrolled in College with Post-9/11 G.I. Bill

veteran colleg
Capt. Irvin Drummond, U.S. Army, studies at a computer 18 May 2007. (Photo by Chris Sanders, U.S. Army)

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which covers educational costs for veterans beyond tuition, has boosted college enrollment rates among veterans by 3 percentage points compared with the earlier G.I. Bill, finds a new study by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. However, the increase in enrollment was much larger immediately after the bill’s adoption and has waned in recent years.

The study, published online in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, a journal of the American Educational Research Association, comes days after Congress passed a major expansion to the G.I. Bill, which – if signed into law – will provide additional educational benefits to veterans.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the G.I. Bill, helped pay for college and other training for millions of World War II veterans. Since its inception, the G.I. Bill has been updated to continue providing educational benefits, with the most recent expansion being the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, or Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

“The original G.I. Bill not only significantly improved the human capital in the United States after World War II, but also democratized American higher education and created a robust middle class. Education benefits provided by the bill allowed veterans to go back to college and obtain necessary knowledge and skills, while also serving as an important entry point back to civilian life,” said Liang Zhang, the study’s author and a professor of higher education at NYU Steinhardt.

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which took effect in August 2009, offers more generous educational benefits than the previous version of the bill. It covers full tuition and fees at in-state public schools (or up to a set amount for tuition and fees at private institutions), a monthly housing allowance, and up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies. All veterans who have served since September 2001 are eligible for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, meaning that those who did not take advantage of benefits under the previous bill were retroactively eligible.

In this study, Zhang examined the impact of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill – including its monthly housing allowance and stipend to cover miscellaneous educational costs – on veterans’ college participation.

Zhang used 11 years of data (2005 to 2015) from the American Community Survey, which resulted in a sample of approximately 200,000 veterans who have served in the post-9/11 era. This sample enabled a comparison between data from before and after the 2009 adoption of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill in order to determine how veterans might have reacted differently to the bill over time.

Zhang found that the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill increased overall college enrollment by about 3 percentage points when compared with enrollment prior to the bill’s adoption. However, the effect was much larger immediately after the bill’s adoption (approximately 4 percentage points) and has waned in recent years (to about 2 percentage points), suggesting that part of the initial enrollment burst was due to the retroactive nature of the bill.

Despite the increase in enrollment, Zhang noted that the effect of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is much smaller than the effects of typical financial aid programs, which have been shown to improve enrollment by about 3 to 6 percentage points for every $1,000 reduction in college costs.

In addition, Zhang examined how the bill affected college enrollment among veterans ranging from 20 to 60 years old, given that veterans typically follow a different educational trajectory than that of nonveterans. He found that the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill has had a consistent and positive impact on college enrollment among veterans of all ages, even among older veterans who are usually considered less likely to enroll in college.

“This suggests that older veterans may be more responsive to financial incentives, echoing previous research findings that older students are more responsive to financial aid than younger students,” Zhang said.

Finally, Zhang looked at the levels of existing educational attainment among veterans, since the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill can be used for a variety of educational and training programs, including both undergraduate and graduate education. He found consistent and positive enrollment effects across veterans with all levels of education, with those already holding master’s degrees taking the most advantage of the bill’s educational benefits.

Zhang concluded that it is both important to evaluate the effect of veterans’ programs on college enrollment, as well as to consider the social impact of the bill – which is broader and more profound than any college-related outcomes could possibly measure.

“While providing generous education benefits to veterans could ease the financial burden of going to college, research shows that veterans can face additional challenges associated with service-related injuries and disabilities, as well as being older students. Higher education institutions must continue to better understand and support this growing, yet potentially vulnerable student population, to best serve those who served the country,” said Zhang.

Exit mobile version