Diversity in America and on Campus

by Tadd Kruse, American University of Kuwait

Over the last two decades higher education has made significant efforts to emphasize and capitalize on the role and importance of diversity in tertiary education.  Related terminology is easily found in most institutional mission statements, strategic plans, and institutional goals, as well as being illustrated by a variety of offices to support specified services and programs.

Diversity manifests itself in many forms on campus, especially in the United States, with varying perspectives to support exposure both domestically and internationally.  Given the evolving global climate one might question whether higher education is a change agent/advocate in this effort, or is merely a reflection of the current state.  Regardless, diversity and related issues play a major role in tertiary education’s responsibility to prepare students for a global marketplace, and a seemingly shrinking world.  Institutions of higher learning need to recognize recent shifts within domestic and international populations in order to identify, embrace, and maximize benefits.

As the term diversity can be applied in many contexts, and interpreted different ways, for the purpose of the following points diversity is “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.: the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.  Diversity in this context extends beyond just race and culture to include the multitude of categories often used to identify human differences (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.). Regardless, diversity and related issues play a major role in post-secondary education’s responsibility to prepare students for a global marketplace, and a seemingly shrinking world.

Diversity on Campus: A Reflection of the Global Population

Many universities in the United States have developed offices for equity, diversity and inclusion as a means to foster equal opportunities, open dialogues, mutual respect and cross-cultural collaboration.  Additional offices exist to support more specialized populations and needs, and vary from domestic to international in basic scope: recognizing that domestic students face similar yet different issues as international student populations and vice-versa.  Even with such support services in place, campuses continue to adapt to the growing shift towards heterogeneous student bodies, illustrated through the increasing growth and variety of domestic and international student populations.

The United States’ population is becoming more diverse according to projections from the 2010 United States Census.  A 2012 Census Bureau projection reported that the United States is, and will continue to become, a more racially and ethnically diverse nation.  The Bureau projected that the United States will grow from the 2014 estimated population of around 320 million to surpass 400 million in the next forty years, becoming a majority-minority nation (no group will make up a majority) for the first time in 2043. Minorities, which are now 37 percent of the United States population, are projected to comprise 57 percent of the population in 2060, seeing the total minority population more than double, from 116.2 million to 241.3 million.  Of particular interest to educators is the proportion of the population younger than 18, which is expected to decrease only slightly from 23.5 percent to 21.2 percent from 2012 to 2060.  The Census Bureau report indicates a shift towards greater diversity across the country, which impacts campus populations at present as well as the near and distant future.

The Chronicle’s Almanac of Higher Education 2014, made accessible in August of this year, lists the most diverse campuses by measuring the probability that two people chosen at random from the student body are of different racial or ethnic groups.  The list includes the top fifteen institutions by category (4/2-year, public/private, non-profit/for-profit) with California having the highest number of campuses listed at 36, followed by Hawaii at 14, and New York at 10.  As most public and private institutions enroll students in state or within a geographic region, often within a specified radius, the demographic make-up of the region may largely determine an institution’s structural diversity.  As these states are very ethnically and racially diverse this may be a glimpse of the future for domestic diversity, and the impact on student populations.

In addition to United States domestic diversity, the addition of international student populations significantly enhances institutional diversity.  Globally, 2014 will see nearly five million students’ worldwide pursuing coursework for degrees outside of their home country, with the United States hosting an estimated 900,000.  Although the number of international students coming to the United States this year is estimated to be the highest ever, it represents approximately 3-4% of the national total higher education enrollment, a percentage that historically has been fairly consistent. These figures and trends present a substantial potential resource to universities and surrounding communities providing numerous benefits.

During summer 2014 a number of reports became available to further articulate the flow of international students.  A U.S. News and World Report article, based on data submitted to U.S. News from 263 ranked colleges, indicated the ten national universities with the largest percentages of international, degree-seeking undergrads in fall 2012, ranging from 15-29% of the student population.  The majority of these institutions were in New York, Florida, California, and the Midwest.

Further, The Brookings Institution released The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations.  The report analyzes data on F-1 visa approvals, the most common form of visa for international students in the U.S., which is included in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database. Unlike previous available data, the Brookings findings focused on the origin and destination cities of international students coming to America.  The report found that from 2008-2012, 85 percent of foreign students pursuing a bachelor’s degree or above attended colleges and universities in 118 metropolitan areas across the nation.  These 118 metro areas collectively accounted for 73 percent of United States higher education students.  According to the report, from 2008-2012, the top five source and destination cities for international students are as follows:

Top Five Source Cities

1. Seoul, South Korea             56,503 students

2. Beijing, China                       49,946 students

3. Shanghai, China                    29,145 students

4. Hyderabad, India                26,220 students

5. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia          17,361 students

Top Five Destination Metropolitan Areas

1. New York, NY                    101,586 students

2. Los Angeles, CA                   68,271 students

3. Boston, MA                                     53,486 students

4. San Francisco, CA                37,610 students

5. Washington D.C.                  35,459 students

Other Asian source cities that followed on the list include Mumbai (17,294), followed by Taipei (15,985), Hong Kong (12,406) and Kathmandu (10,721).  From 2008-12, other cities that welcomed more than 20,000 foreign students to the U.S. included Chicago (35,204), Dallas (25,353), Philadelphia (24,346), and San Jose (19,015).

From 2008 to 2012, approximately 3,700 United States educational institutions received approvals for F-1 visas for Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree programs with the top 100 schools accounting for 46 percent of all F-1 students pursuing at least a bachelor’s degree. With a high percentage of foreign students having attended a relatively small number of colleges and universities, and only one-third of foreign students having attended colleges or universities with little to no research activity, larger research based institutions and those in metropolitan settings do have an advantage.


Regardless of your institutional type and location, there are a number of benefits from developing and supporting a truly diverse student body.  Below are several factors to consider and embrace in support of expanding cultural awareness, cultural exchange, and intentionally promoting diversity at your institution.

  • Cultural Exchange – More diverse campus populations provide for a plethora of cultural exchange opportunities, both formal and informal.  Campuses can capitalize on the diversity presented within the student body through the celebration of culture and intentionally developing awareness opportunities.  These opportunities often are presented through international weeks, special programs, bazaars, campaigns, and language initiatives.  These exchanges can enhance not just the campus community but the local community as well, especially for those institutions in less metropolitan areas.
  • Economics According to The Brookings Institution report, approximately $21.8 billion in tuition and $12.8 billion in other spending added to the 118 metropolitan economies from international students between 2008 and 2012.  Nearly $7 billion a year was pumped into the United States economy during that period from this student population.  Much of that spending went beyond institutions and into community businesses.  The 2012-13 IIE Open Doors report suggests 313,260 jobs were supported by these funds.
  • Education A more diverse group, or class make-up, has long been deemed an important component to educational processes and learning.   Achieving a diverse student body, starting with admissions processes, helps to provide greater opportunities for classroom engagement and idea exchange.  The importance of diversity was supported in the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Grutter v Bollinger, addressing the University of Michigan Law School admissions processes.  The ruling reinforced that maintaining diverse and inclusive student populations is important to higher education environments.
  • Enrollment Source Students make decisions about where to study based on many factors, including academic reputation, programs, and recognition of degrees (both domestically and internationally).  Other key factors include language and cultural considerations; geography; similarity of education systems; links with institutions, regions, or countries; future job opportunities; cost; and cultural aspirations and immigration policies.  Universities need to be aware of strengths and weaknesses related to these factors in order to maximize institutional appeal and potential enrollment sources.
  • Labor Force – In addition to the economic benefits of international students, the labor force can also capitalize. As The Brookings Institution report stated, “With knowledge of both markets, foreign students can be valuable assets to local business communities that are seeking to expand globally, and the wider metropolitan economies in which they sit.”  The report further stated that 45 percent of foreign student graduates extend their visas in the United States to work in the same metropolitan area as their institution.
  • Personal Growth – A vital function of the higher education journey is the personal development of students.  Although often deemed a secondary outcome of the collegiate journey, many student affairs professionals or graduates would argue that this is quite significant.  By developing diverse populations and opportunities for exposure and understanding, institutions further support the maturation and growth of students in a multitude of ways.
  • Promote Tolerance & Cultural Diversity – As the United States and other countries around the world continue to diversify, the increased exposure and opportunities for cultural exchange help to develop and promote tolerance.  The United States has been viewed as a “melting pot” of cultures, but many would argue that it is more of a “kaleidoscope,” (that both immigrants and society adapt and change). A favored Mark Twain quote sums it up best by illustrating the importance of exposure in overcoming barriers to equity, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”


As tertiary education the world over continues to expand, crossing more borders than ever before and continuing to pair with shifts in domestic diversity figures, academia is not necessarily the change agent perhaps it once was.  It is now a closer reflection of the global population.   Multiculturalism and diversity issues are present on campuses now more than ever, mirroring an increased societal picture, especially in the United States.  Census projections see the country diversifying in major categories over the next three decades.  However, diversity tends to be generalized across a broad population of individuals depending on institutional make-up, and is not always an accurate representation.  These factors coupled with the largest international student population in the United States to date presents a need to revisit what diversity really means on your campus.  As student affairs practitioners, it is important that we acknowledge how diversity presents on campus.  Further, we must intentionally review and plan to embrace the dynamics of an evolving University community, as both a reflection of shifting national and global dynamics.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is your campus a reflection of the region in terms of overall diversity?  If not, how does it differ and why?
  2. Do you know the demographics of your student body on campus, including both domestic and international populations? Does your supervisor or peers?
  3. How might you go about gathering information about diverse student populations on your campus, and the services in place to support those most common?
  4. Is your institution type/setting one that benefits from the findings of The Brookings Institution report? What can your institution, your department, and you do to benefit from diversity at your institution?

About the Author

Tadd Kruse is Assistant to the President for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness at the American University of Kuwait (AUK).  With fifteen years of higher education administrative experience and having worked at institutions in the US, UK, and in the Middle East, he has spent more than a decade working abroad. He has experience in international education on a variety of fronts including international student housing, study abroad, exchange programs, and he co-founded and still oversees the Student Affairs Graduate Summer Internship Program at AUK.  Tadd has served as Senior Student Affairs Officer, founded a department at a start-up institution, and worked in a variety of professional fields within Student Affairs.

Please e-mail inquiries to Tadd Kruse.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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