Diversity is a fundamental element of higher education in the United States. By surrounding themselves with peers who hail from a wide range of racial and ethnic groups, men and women who enroll in U.S. colleges and universities can effectively prepare for the diverse workforce they will encounter after graduation.
Some schools are significantly more diverse than others. BestColleges has presented the following list of the country’s 50 most diverse colleges, universities, and other institutions that offer undergraduate credentials. To create our ranking, we consulted two authoritative sources on the subject: the Shannon-Weiner Index, one of the most widely used algorithms for determining ethnic diversity within a specified population; and the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System, a compendium of statistics associated with gender and ethnic disbursement maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Statisticians today can use many different diversity indexes to determine the level of diversity at a particular school. The Shannon-Weiner Index measures diversity by noting the different number of racial groups present within a given institution, as well as their percentage breakdown; the more racial groups that are present in comparable percentages, the more diverse the school is. For this reason, the student populations found at most of the schools on our list boast double-digit percentage representation from at least three different racial groups. The index’s scale ranges from 0.0 to 1.94. For our purposes, we’ve included schools with the highest self–reporting populations of Asian, African American and Latino or Hispanic students.
This is how each data variable is defined:
- Type of Institution: This variable notes whether the school is classified as ‘public’ or ‘private’, its financial status (all 50 schools on our list are ‘not-for-profit’), and the level of degree awarded to students who complete their programs.
- Enrollment: This variable notes the school’s total population, as well as the number of undergraduate students who enroll there; as a rule, all of the schools on our list offer some type of credential to undergraduates.
- Shannon-Weiner Index Score: This number will range from 0.0 to 1.94 for any given institution; the schools on our ranking range from 1.73 (the highest) to 1.37.
- Percent of undergraduate enrollment by gender: Most schools on our list boast a higher representation of female students compared to male students.
- Percent of undergraduate enrollment by race: This data, obtained from IPEDS, shows the breakdown of a given school’s student body based on the following racial groups:
- American Indian or Alaska Native
- Black or African American
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
- White or Caucasian
- Two or More Races
- Non-Resident Alien
How to Interpret the Data
It’s important to note that schools on our list are ranked regardless of their size; nine schools in the top ten have student populations that fall below 5,000, and the schools with fewer than 2,000 enrolled students outnumber those with more than 10,000 enrolled students. Interestingly, all but seven schools on the entire list are found in four states: California, New York, New Jersey and Texas. Five of the schools in the top 10 are located in New York. Illinois and Michigan are the only land-locked states with schools that appear on our list.
Furthermore, these four states revealed different diversity trends. Schools in California boasted relatively high percentages for both Asian and Hispanic/Latino students; schools in New York and New Jersey had the highest percentages of Black/African American students; and Texas schools revealed high percentages of Hispanic/Latino students. California and Texas both displayed high percentages of students who identify as Non-Resident Aliens. However, White students were one of the dominant racial groups for the vast majority of the schools on our list.
Another interesting trend is the predominance of religious schools. Although several large, public universities made our list ― including UNLV, Rutgers, as well as a handful of schools in the University of Hawaii, Cal State, and CUNY systems ― schools affiliated with various Christian faiths accounted for more than half of the top 50. All but one of the faith-based schools on our list allows both male and female students to attend.
Finally, please note that more than 1,700 colleges and universities were considered for this list ― so even the low-ranking schools are significantly more diverse than most of the country’s other higher-learning institutions.