The AAC&U recently released a report called “Falling Short?: College Learning and Career Success.” Here is the press release.
Much of the news coverage—and that press release—focus on the differences between what students thought about their career preparedness and what employers thought about the same. However, the very questions raise a different issue: the presence and integration of diversity on campuses across the country.
Diversity can mean so many things, and on my own campus, we have been reexamining what “diversity” means to our community. Given my position, I am often the person in the room raising the question of cultural diversity. The questions in this survey and responses seem to make clear that the ability to communicate, build teams, and produce products across cultures is important, but how can higher education institutions do a better job of that?
First, we have to value cultural diversity across campus by recognizing it and greeting it with respect and a desire to learn. By this I mean that we need to acknowledge that a student who has just arrived in the US from, say, Kazakhstan, has a set of cultural (and not just language) challenges that will be different from those of a student from the same country or region who has been in the US for two years. But they will both have challenges. We have to see how an African American student, a Latino student, and a white student from the same city will all bring different cultural understandings of education to campus.
Then, we need to serve those differences in our classrooms, offices, and residence halls. Yes, students who come from places where education was segregated by gender will have some difficulty integrating into a co-ed campus or co-ed classrooms. Yes, students who were raised to listen to teachers and take in knowledge will struggle to participate in some classes, depending on the student dynamic. And our responses need to come with the recognition that these are often cultural barriers and not a language deficit or lack of ability.
To achieve this second step, higher education leaders need to equip their campuses—across units—with the tools to do this well. This can take a host of forms, depending on one ‘s campus context, but it requires identifying areas where development is needed and dedicating resources to faculty development, staff with particular expertise in student affairs, a reconfigured Writing Center—just to name a very few. This kind of planning is necessary not just for the future but for the present. This diversity is already here and everywhere, but if we don’t know how to support it and work within it, we cannot serve as the role models students need when encountering difference and help them better adapt to what America’s international workplaces demand.