Toward a culture of equity and inclusion

January 16, 2019


Penn State has long recognized, on an institutional level, the importance of making the university a more diverse and welcoming place. Under the leadership of the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity, the University was one of the first to approach diversity goals using a strategic planning process, and remains one of the few to engage in regular comprehensive progress reviews with University leadership.

In 2014, incoming President Eric Barron brought a heightened level of focus, foregrounding diversity as a critical element of life at Penn State. Barron called diversity not just a moral and educational imperative, but a business imperative as well. He prioritized it as one of six foundations of the University’s Strategic Plan, a cornerstone of our missions of teaching, research and service. The Penn State Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion reflects the strength of this commitment.

There have been encouraging signs of progress across a number of key areas, a few shared below. While these highlights represent significant strides, much remains to be done. The University’s leadership continues to reach toward the goals outlined in Penn State's Strategic Plan: to build and advance a truly diverse student body and workforce, develop a curriculum that fosters and teaches diversity, and create a culture of equity and inclusion that not only respects but celebrates our differences. 

Progress in process

According to data for fall 2018, there were 9,123 students from diverse backgrounds and 7,366 international students among the total enrollment of 46,270 at University Park, and 7,029 diverse students and 2,250 international students at Penn State’s other campuses. Employees from diverse backgrounds make up 30 percent of faculty, and 13 percent of staff and administrators, University-wide. While these numbers have remained stable, with slight increases, over the past decade, progress has been slow. There is much more work to be done.  

Equally as important as recruitment and enrollment are retention and graduation. At 70 percent, Penn State University Park graduation rates for African Americans are almost twice the national average. Across all campuses, graduation rates for African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and international students exceed national averages, according to the latest available comparison data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the Penn State Factbook. While these completion rates are promising, Penn State values the opportunity to continue to strive for even higher graduation rates within these demographics.  

It’s critical to remember that Penn State extends far beyond University Park. In a 2018 presentation to the Board of Trustees, President Barron stressed the rich diversity present at the Commonwealth Campuses, reflecting as they do the diverse populations in their communities. The campuses also play a vital role in building diversity at University Park. 

The campuses are notable, too, for serving families of modest means, opening doors to bring talented students from every background to Penn State. And thanks to programs such as Upward Bound and Talent Search, federally funded initiatives that exist to help motivated high-school students from diverse, low-income and first-generation backgrounds to reach their goals of attending college, the pipeline is starting earlier than ever. For 2017-18, these and other TRIO grant programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, reached more than 3,100 first-generation and low-income students throughout the state of Pennsylvania.   

The additional examples below highlight progress among a range of strategies being employed to increase the pool of faculty and staff, build a stronger pipeline of under-represented minorities applying to Penn State, and establish a welcoming and inclusive environment for those who join Penn State.

  • In March 2017, the University hired Sara Oliver-Carter as senior director of Talent, Diversity and Inclusion in Human Resources with the charge to work specifically on attracting, developing and retaining a high-quality diverse workforce at all colleges, campuses and non-academic units. Human Resources has since joined with the Offices of Educational Equity and Affirmative Action to create the Equity Action Resource Team (EART), a group of University volunteers trained to provide guidance and strategic insight to search committees, advancing inclusivity for future applicants. Already, EART has recruited and trained more than 200 volunteers, and the program is now available to the entire University.
  • The Affirmative Action Office has redesigned faculty search committee trainings to include all search committee members, not just chairs, and has developed new content to more comprehensively address the impact of implicit bias on faculty searches. The trainings also have been extended to allow the Office of Global Programs to present information critical to hiring of international faculty.
  • As a component of the new philanthropy campaign, University Development established the Open Doors Scholarship Program, a matching gift program to help students with financial need thrive at Penn State.
  • Development and Alumni Relations has hired Charleon Jeffries as its first director of diversity, equity and inclusion, one of the first positions of its kind in the Big Ten.
  • Penn State has joined the American Talent Initiative, partnering with top-performing institutions nationally to commit to the collective goal of enrolling 50,000 additional talented, low- and moderate-income students at colleges and universities with strong graduation rates by 2025.
  • The University continues to rank among the top 10 schools hosting international students. This spring, the Borough of State College and the University Park Undergraduate Association launched “You are Welcome Here,” a downtown banner campaign celebrating the presence of international students in our community.
  • Penn State has once again been named one of the Top 30 LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities, based on its institutional policies and dedication to sexual and gender diversity.
  • Several national military publications have recognized Penn State’s World Campus as a top choice for veterans and active military.

In addition to these accomplishments and many other programs, “All In” continues to inspire engagement and discussion across all Penn State campuses, including, for example, the establishment of new dining options to meet the requirements of Halal and Kashrut for observant Muslim and Jewish faith students, and an expansion of the award-winning “World In Conversation” project, facilitating campus and community dialogues in diversity and inclusion.

As we continue to work to accelerate progress toward a culture of equity and inclusion, Penn State’s leadership remains committed to actively engaging with University stakeholders among students, faculty, and staff. Please contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity with your ideas, criticisms and suggestions, or visit us at

Last Updated January 15, 2019