UNIVERSITY PARK — Results from an unprecedented, self-driven assessment of Penn State’s diversity and inclusion efforts ranked the University among the top 20 higher education institutions in the nation.
Penn State is “definitely at the high end of its peers” in terms of the University’s diversity master plan and its organizational capacity, effectiveness and impact, said Rona Halualani, principal and founder of research/analytics firm Halualani & Associates. Halualani, whose firm conducted the exhaustive University-wide analysis over the past year, also noted that Penn State still has work to do, like many other institutions across the country.
“Penn State has a robust, vibrant, impressive diversity and inclusion infrastructure as well as a strategic framework and a process for that, and in my opinion, is a standout model, but there also are avenues for further growth,” said Halualani, an academic researcher in intercultural communication and diversity.
“The report shows that we’re a leader among higher education institutions in diversity and inclusion initiatives, but that doesn’t mean any of us are where we need to be.”
— Terrell Jones, vice provost for Educational Equity
The analysis was based on data reports and a campus visit in spring 2013, the midpoint of the third iteration of the University’s diversity strategic plan, “A Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State: 2010-15.” The Framework was first implemented in 1998 and is based on seven consistent fundamental Challenges.
The firm studied more than 3,000 pages of documentation across 43 colleges, campuses and units, and conducted a two-day site visit in February. Halualani shared its findings on Dec. 2 during a workshop presented by the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity and the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment and held at University Park, with 13 other University locations participating via videoconference.
The report’s comparative content is based on the firm’s diversity database of about 7,500 U.S. institutions. The first-of-its-kind database, called Atlas, analyzes an expansive amount of data through more than 70 different diversity and inclusion categories and dimensions to give a holistic picture of college and university environments and initiatives.
Halualani found that Penn State ranks in the top four in comparison to peer institutions for diverse undergraduate student enrollment, diverse student graduation rates and new minority faculty hire numbers. She added that the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity leads one of the top 10 diversity strategic planning frameworks in the country, and also stands out as one of the few offices nationwide that focuses on diversity achievement outcomes and impact.
“The report shows that we’re a leader among higher education institutions in diversity and inclusion initiatives, but that doesn’t mean any of us are where we need to be,” said Terrell Jones, vice provost for Educational Equity. “Now we need to push beyond our goals with increased emphasis on assessing outcomes and impact. We’ve already turned the corner to start heading in that direction.”
“Penn State is right around the corner from transformational achievements, and to be a national model is the next step up.”
— Rona Halualani, academic researcher in intercultural communication and diversity
Halaulani pointed to areas on which the University should continue to work, including:
— Better measurement of diversity outcomes and impact;
— Shaping groundbreaking curricular components that infuse diversity, intercultural relations and intercultural/global competencies;
— Creating interdisciplinary alliances around diversity and inclusion;
— Employing new tactics for diversifying faculty and staff;
— Encouraging collective responsibility and participation; and
— Integrating diversity and inclusion in everyday work across University units and campuses.
“Penn State has an assessment structure in place and a process, and it’s leaps ahead of other universities, but it’s about closing that loop where you are able to identify the impact,” she said. “Penn State is right around the corner from transformational achievements, and to be a national model is the next step up.”
Halualani pointed to membership structures on review panels, necessary committees and councils, and different levels of University-wide diversity initiative participation as signs of structural diversity integration at Penn State.
Noting the University’s consistency in its diversity strategic planning and goal setting since 1998, Halaulani added, “What stands out for me compared to other institutions is that this is not something new at Penn State. There’s a historical foundation that has been set. There’s a continuity, and that’s what I really appreciate. Some universities would say, ‘We’ve done this and this and this, we’re done, we’re going to do six or seven new ones,’ and Penn State hasn’t. That continuity for me is key.”
Penn State leaders see the potential as well and are looking to continue and expand that consistency.
“Our goal is to have diversity and inclusion initiatives institutionalized so that they aren’t dependent on leadership and budgetary changes,” said Victoria Sanchez, assistant vice provost for Educational Equity. “We want to make the goals deeply integrated so that they will endure.”
In addition to studying where Penn State was positioned nationally, Halualani & Associates benchmarked the University against 10 of its institutional peers, including several Big Ten schools, universities such as Princeton and Cornell that are working on innovative diversity initiatives, and other universities like Auburn that have visited Penn State as a diversity example institution.
Halaulani said that, unfortunately, the national higher education outlook isn’t as positive as the initiatives she sees at Penn State.
“The integration of diversity depends on the structure set up at a university, and it’s still really a new frontier, even though diversity and inclusion work has been around since the ’70s and ’80s,” Halaulani said. “It’s something that is hard to establish because it requires the participation of all campus members and leaders. This is all new, innovative work in higher ed.”
Halualani, a faculty expert in institutional planning, inclusive excellence and intercultural communication at San Jose State University, previously served in the capacity of its chief diversity officer. She has completed diversity and inclusion assessments at more than 50 colleges and universities.
In October, Penn State was selected as a recipient of the 2013 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award by INSIGHT into Diversity magazine. The University was one of 56 higher education institutions in the nation to be recognized for exceptional having strategies and programs in place to help achieve diversity and inclusion across campus.