Barron stresses demographics', diversity’s importance in future of Penn State

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Building diversity at Penn State isn’t just good for business and environmental richness -- it’s a moral imperative, said President Eric Barron today (March 20) during an in-depth review of the demographics and 2020 census projections for Pennsylvania and the United States.

“It’s our obligation as a public institution of higher education to teach the people in our communities, in our state, in the nation, and increasingly at Penn State, students from around the world,” Barron said in his address to the Board of Trustees.

Diversity/demographics is one of six topics declared by Barron as major talking points of his presidency. Barron presented numerous slides worth of data describing demographic projections for 2020, University-wide demographics for students and faculty/staff as of fall 2014, and snapshots of the demographics in 20 statewide recruitment areas.

A chart tracking diversity among U.S. high school graduates

High school graduates will increasingly become more diverse. 

Image: Penn State

Barron said he sees three imperatives: moral, educational and business. The University has a duty to teach all people, a diverse campus is a richer learning environment, and a welcoming and inclusive campus responding to changing demographics is crucial in attracting students.

“At many universities, diversity is an assigned responsibility,” he said, “when in fact, we won’t be successful unless it is everybody’s job.”

Penn State’s diversity will need to grow if the University is to mirror the racial makeup of Pennsylvania and beyond, according to Barron.

Projections of the 2020 census

The nation and Pennsylvania will become more diverse, according to census projections. 

Image: Penn State

In 2020, African-Americans are expected to make up approximately 12 percent of Pennsylvania; currently at Penn State roughly 6 percent of undergraduate students and roughly 3 percent of faculty University-wide are African-American. Hispanics are expected to comprise approximately 8 percent of the state in 2020; currently at Penn State roughly 6 percent of undergraduate students and roughly 3 percent of faculty are Hispanic. Asians are expected to make up approximately 4 percent of Pennsylvania in 2020; currently at Penn State roughly 5.5 percent of undergraduate students and roughly 10 percent of faculty are Asian.

Barron presented a graph showing that high school graduates will increasingly become more diverse; from 1996-97 to 2026-27, the percentage of white graduates is projected to decrease from 72 percent to 51 percent.

Projections for 2020 show a declining birth rate in most Pennsylvania counties along with a rise in birth rates nationwide, with the growth coming in urban areas.

“University statistics combined with population projections highlight the importance of recruitment, retention and the creation of an inclusive environment,” Barron said.

Some other findings noted by Barron include:

-- Student diversity growth has been a long-term process.

-- Minority representation among Penn State faculty and staff lags behind the projected growth in diversity among the general population. (The exception is the aforementioned Asian faculty population, which currently makes up 10 percent of faculty University-wide.)

-- Faculty diversity is an evolving process with larger numbers of minority faculty currently in junior positions.

Barron also mentioned that colleges, campuses and units have recently submitted five-year diversity plans, which are under review by University leadership. These strategic plans allow Penn State employees to assess their preparation for the coming decade, share best practices, and focus on accountability, environment and inclusion. 

In January, Barron proposed to the Board of Trustees a freeze of tuition rates for eight undergraduate Commonwealth Campuses in 2015-16 and other recommendations to increase access and affordability at Penn State, another one of his imperatives. 

To view the President's presentation. 

Last Updated March 20, 2015